The name of the licorice comes from the Greek glucos which means sweet and riza which means root. The plant was already known in Asia over 5000 years ago and was widely used by the Egyptians, the peoples of China and the Assyrians. Its properties were already known in Greek medicine, but it was introduced into Europe only in the fifteenth century by the Dominican friars. Currently it can be found on the market in the form of chewing sticks, infusions or herbal teas, candies, widely used as a remedy for coughs and sore throats, in sugared almonds or in powder or still in juice. It originates from Asia and grows spontaneously in countries with a Mediterranean climate. It is grown in Italy, Sicily and Calabria, regions which are still the main producers.
The licorice plant, of the Fabaceae family, belongs to the genus Glycyrrhiza; the most used species is called Glycyrrhiza glabra. It is a rustic perennial herbaceous plant able to resist very well to low temperatures and frost. It prefers calcareous or clayey soils. The plant at sight has a large rhizome from which the roots depart. The latter can grow very high even exceeding two meters. Its roots must be harvested no earlier than three to four years and must be dried before being used. This should preferably be done during the fall season. Licorice contains the active substance called glycyrrhizin; it is precisely the latter that gives it its characteristic sweet taste.