Who is not familiar with the sticky black confectionary known as liquorice' A popular sweet and flavouring agent, liquorice has been well known and widely used throughout Britain and northern Europe since Medieval times and has been cultivated in England since 1560, though it naturally prefers hotter climes. It originates in southern and south-eastern Europe, but has spread throughout the near and middle East and even as far east as China, where the local variety serves as one of the most popular ingredients of Chinese compound medicines. Liquorice is a medium sized shrub that belongs to the pea family, but it is the rhizomes of 3-4 year old plants that are used for flavouring and medicine. The roots are shredded and boiled until a thick black syrup results, which upon cooling solidifies into the familiar black substance. Natural Liquorice is 50 times sweeter than sugar and as a flavouring agent it is usually mixed with Aniseed. It is popular in certain baked goods, but most importantly, it lends its flavour to mask other, less pleasant medicines, while the powder is used to reduce the stickiness of pills.
Liquorice has long been valued as a soothing agent for the throat and bronchi and is used by itself or in combination with other herbs, such as Fennel and Aniseed. It is mildly laxative and makes a great additive to bitter laxative teas such as Cascara Sagrada. Recent studies point to a far more powerful and interesting use of Liquorice though. It has been discovered that Liquorice is strongly anti-inflammatory and has a marked effect in conditions such as arthritis and gout. It also appears to have a powerful effect on the glandular system and the liver. It gently stimulates and balances the adrenal glands, which may be very useful in cases of chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also estrogenic and reduces testosterone. Thus, it may be helpful in regulating certain hormonal imbalances caused by oestrogen deficiency. Liquorice has also shown a protective and healing effect on the stomach and liver. It is indicated for stomach ulcers as well as for cases of chronic liver inflammation (hepatitis) and even cirrhosis. However, due to the possibility of certain adverse drug interaction it is mandatory to consult a qualified practitioner before attempting self-treatment.
Magical use of Liquorice is not well documented. Culpeper ascribes the herb to Mercury. Its effects can be classified as balancing and thus may help the practitioner to maintain the middle path without being led astray into extreme forms of practice (over indulgence or asceticism and abstinence). In Germany the herb was regarded as life-giving and has been used in fertility rites, especially for women.