Native to Asia and Mediterranean region. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) in the family Leguminosae is a tall shrub (4–5 feet) having blue or violet flowers. Most commercial licorice is extracted from varieties of G. glabra. The most common variety, G glabra var. typica (Spanish licorice), is characterized by blue flowers, while the variety G glabra var. glandulifera (Russian licorice) has violet blossoms. The name glycyrrhiza comes from Greek words meaning "sweet root." The roots contain the medicinally active constituents. The plant requires rich soils and grows in subtropical climates. It is indigenous to Turkey, Iraq, Spain, Greece and northern China.
English-grown Liquorice is dug up in late autumn and sold mostly in the fresh state for making extract, only a small amount being dried. Fresh Liquorice (English) when washed is externally of a bright yellowish brown. It is very flexible, easily cut with a knife, exhibiting a light yellow, juicy internal substance, which consists of a thick bark surrounding a woody column. Both bark and wood are extremely tough, readily tearing into long, fibrous strings. The root has a peculiar earthy odor and a strong, characteristic, sweet taste. The English Extract of Liquorice, made from the fresh homegrown root, sold in the lozenge form and known as Pontefract or Pomfrey cakes, is said to have a more delicate flavour than that of imported varsities.
In southern Italy, large quantities of Liquorice root are grown, but it is chiefly converted into Extract, though some of the root is exported. Spain and the south of France furnish quantities of carefully dried Liquorice root. Up to the year 1890, the cultivation of Spanish Liquorice was small or moderate in comparison with the wild collection. Owing, however, to the depletion of the natural supplies of root of good quality, this cultivation has grown rapidly in South and South-central Europe, where the climate is favourable.
Nearly all the Russian Liquorice reaching this country has been peeled. It attains a much larger size than the Spanish, and the taste, although sweet, is accompanied by a more or less perceptible but not strong bitterness or acridity. It consists chiefly of roots, not runners, in long often crooked pieces, about 2 inches in thickness, pale yellow externally and internally of a lighter yellow than the Spanish and softer. The size of all cells (when examined microscopically) is seen to be much larger than in the Spanish.
Spain formerly yielded most of the supply, hence the Extract is still termed 'Spanish Juice,' but that of the first grade has long been depleted to the point of scarcity. The sticks vary in size, but are commonly about 1 inch in diameter and 6 or 7 inches in length and when imported are usually wrapped in bay leaves. Several varieties of Stick Liquorice are met with in English commerce; the most famous is the Solazzi Juice, manufactured at Corigliano, a small town of Calabria in the Gulf of Toranto