Not everyone likes licorice, but the people who do REALLY like it. I am one of those people.
My devotion got off to a bad start, really, when as a child in Switzerland my parents thought it a good idea to brush in between meals by chewing on the root. Even though it got herbally sweeter and sweeter with each chew – and not in a good way – the experience quickly went from bad to good like the salty-yet-sweet candy version I was allowed to pop right after (totally annihilating the benefits of the chew, I know. But so is giving candy to a child post-dentist visit. I digress.).
An acquired taste, the European licorice drops quickly became a favorite of mine and an adoration of all things licorice began. Fast forward to my college years, when my love affair reached a fever pitch as hot as the flames atop my sambuca shooter – yes, I sheepishly admit it – and I have since enjoyed it in candy, ice cream, gum, root beer and tea. I love it so much, in fact, that if they bottled licorice spice tea I would wear it (and incidentally a recent study places the scent of licorice as the one most arousing to men).
Not to be confused with anise – which is similar in taste and the main ingredient used to flavour the candies and things I enjoy – licorice takes its name from Greek glyks rhiza, meaning sweet root. Some research has placed its sweetness as 150 times sweeter than sucrose! Harvested in the autumn, the root of this legume (related to beans and peas) is the part used medicinally. Licorice has been used since pre-biblical times as an overall body tonic, particularly in ancient Greece, Egypt (King Tut was buried with a supply), China, and India. It is still commonly found in cough drops, syrups, tooth powders, tonics and laxatives, as well as a harmonizing ingredient for traditional Chinese formulations; but I think the most titillating use of licorice has been for increasing sexual vigor: the 6th c. Indian Kama Sutra and 15th c. Ananga Ranga contain numerous recipes to crack the proverbial licorice whip. Ahem!
Most important to contemporary medicine today, licorice contains the anti-viral compound glycyrrhizic acid. It is so effective that it is used in Japan to treat and control viral hepatitis. The compound is also widely used to treat oral herpes and prevent cold sores. Translation: while it may sometimes be called the liver of candy, licorice is one amazingly potent elixir.
So whether you’re looking to feel a little lickerish (whoop!) or needing a powerful remedy to boost liver function, look no further than the licorice root. It really is fit for a king.