It all started with a beer – not just any beer, but the first one I had after my pregnancy-induced beer drought. My daughter had arrived safe and sound into the world so my husband and I celebrated with a licorice stout. At the time, I thought it was an odd sounding combination, so risking a potentially weird taste, I took a sip. The stout turned out to be tasty goodness, if you like a dark beer like I do. Since then I’ve enjoyed a few pints of the brew and it has turned into my husband’s favourite.
We’ve talked of brewing our own licorice beer, so in the spirit of planning ahead I was delighted when I noticed a listing of licorice seeds tucked between lespedeza (I have no idea what that is) and lily-of-the-valley in a seed catalogue. Their licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) was described as, “The source of most commercial licorice used in the making of candy, liquor and as a sweetener for herb tea. Extracts flavour tobacco, beer, soft drinks and pharmaceutical products.” It sounded like the right plant, so I ordered a packet of seeds.
Licorice is a legume – I’m always fascinated by the number of plants that turn out to be legumes beyond peas and beans. For example: clover, fenugreek, and lupines are all legumes. Native to Europe and Asia, licorice has a long history as a culinary flavouring. It’s latin name ‘Glycyrrhiza’ originates from a Greek word meaning ‘sweet root’. And it was not only the Greeks using licorice; ancient Egyptians, Hindus, Chinese and no doubt others used it in teas, alcoholic mixes, medicine and candy. According to two different herb tea books, licorice is also a natural sweetener and capable of curing all sorts of things, from asthma to indigestion.
I have a recipe for my licorice stout. Recently, in a happy on-line book ordering accident, I received a book of beer recipes instead of the gardening book I had ordered. Their advice for using licorice root is to boil it up with the wort. As well as a flavour for alcoholic beer, licorice is one of the roots used to make root beer. Perhaps I’ll add a few batches of root beer to my licorice plan as recipes from scratch are easy to find on line (like this one and this one). My brewmaster friend has said she is up for guiding me through making both the alcoholic and no-alcoholic licorice beers.
Late February, the seeds were planted in my makeshift aquarium-plant-starter and have sprouted. It turns out, licorice grows into a small bush that likes well drained soil. I have the perfect place in one of my raised beds once the garlic is harvested.
Unfortunately, my licorice harvest is a long way away. Assuming, the two-leaved sprouts grow into proper plants, they’ll have to make it through the winter as I’m on the northern edge of what they can tolerate. I expect I’ll need to cover them late fall. With luck, in about three years, I’ll be able to harvest and dry the roots. In the mean time, I might order some licorice root to practice making the brews so I will have perfected my brewing techniques before using my home-grown licorice.