Licorice is a member of the legume family, and while there are species that grow in the U.S., Glycyrrhiza glabra is primarily native to Europe and Asia. Glycyrrhiza’s name reflects its most popularly known claim to fame: “sweet root”. With an extract that can be 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar, we can see why our ancestors were inspired to turn it into candy. In Chinese medicine, anti-inflammatory licorice root has been used for centuries for coughs and colds.
One interesting note about the way licorice has been used in Chinese medicine is that it was used as a “guide drug”. Licorice root was used in tandem with other herbs and remedies to enhance their effects and essentially guide the other herbs to where they would be most beneficial.
Europeans did not ignore the benefits of licorice as supplement, either. Licorice root has documented uses from antiquity, from ancient Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages and beyond. By the 20th century, manufacturing allows the root to be stripped for pharmaceutical uses and then extracted for candy sweetener.