Grow licorice, everyone knows the unmistakable aroma of licorice, many know that it is obtained from the root of a plant. In fact, licorice is a very rustic perennial herbaceous plant of the Fabaceae family, which reaches a good size, reaching up to two meters in height.
It is cultivated to extract the rhizome, that is the root, which can be consumed or used to obtain an extract, from which a variety of candies and other products with a characteristic aroma come to life. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a plant that requires a warm and dry climate, which is why it does not lend itself to the northern regions but can be successfully inserted in the gardens of central and southern Italy. It is widespread in cultivation in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Iran. Calabria has a centuries-old tradition in the production of excellent licorice, of which the liqueur is also famous.
If you want to try your hand at growing a licorice plant in your garden, remember that you need patience, since the roots of plants that are at least three years old are harvested.
Soil and climate
Climate. As anticipated in the introduction, it is a plant that loves a mild climate, for this reason, it does very well in central and southern Italy, while it finds some problems in being cultivated in northern Italy. This cultivation requires fairly dry land and excellent sun exposure, it does not fear the summer heat.
Ground. Essential for growing licorice is good soil cultivation since this plant does not tolerate stagnant water. This cultivation particularly loves soft and sandy soils, being a rhizome crop for correct development, too clayey and compact or stony soils that could mechanically hinder root enlargement are not suitable. Nitrogen fertilization can help to have good results, but without exaggerating because otherwise the area part is favored to the detriment of the underground part which is of interest to us. This crop also loves a good presence of phosphorus, but potassium is also useful for forming the root and therefore equally necessary.
Sowing. Licorice seeds are grown in March, and it is also very hot in February. If you start by planting in a protected seedbed, you can anticipate sowing a bit, in February or even in January if you are growing in the south. Better to germinate the licorice in trays, and then transplant the formed seedling, because they are not very easy seeds to give birth. The seed should be about 1cm deep. Once transplanted in the field, the recommended distance between the plants is 60 cm, a good sixth of the plant requires rows 100 cm apart.
Cutting. Wanting to start cultivating licorice rather than sowing it, the simplest method is to plant a rhizome, from which to develop the plant by cuttings. This avoids having to wait for germination. To make the cutting you need a root of at least 10 centimeters.
Growing licorice in pots. Theoretically, it is possible to grow licorice on the balcony, even if it requires very large and heavy pots since the root collects under 30 cm deep and needs space to be productive. For this reason, our advice is to avoid growing in pots and put licorice directly in the soil. However, those who do not have a vegetable garden available and are curious to see the plant can try the same, knowing that no significant production is to be expected in pots.
Organic cultivation of licorice
Irrigation. The licorice plant requires little water: for this reason, it is recommended to water it rarely, only in cases of prolonged drought. Conversely, it is cultivation that fears very much water stagnation, the roots can rot if the soil remains wet for a long time.
Weeding. The removal of weeds must be done carefully when the plant is young, especially during the first year of cultivation. Subsequently, the plant is strengthened and is able to make room for itself, which is why the work of controlling the weeds in the field is considerably reduced, and keeping the licorice becomes undemanding.
Vegetative stasis. Licorice plants go into vegetative stasis in autumn, drying up. In this period the dried aerial part can be cut and removed. This is also the best time to harvest if the plant is at least three years old.
Adversity. The most frequent problem of this plant is rot, caused by water stagnation, which often causes fungal diseases to develop, such as rust of the stem, rust of the roots, and root rot. These diseases can cause the plant to deteriorate and compromise the yield.
Root collection and uses
Root collection. Licorice root is found in the ground, to harvest it you need to dig. The roots can then be consumed directly or used for extracts. As already indicated, the roots of plants that are at least 3 years old are collected. Licorice roots also grow deep, so you will need to dig up to half a meter. Harvesting takes place after the summer, until November when the plant begins to dry out for a moment of vegetative stasis. After having cleaned the roots, they are dried to obtain the sticks that can be consumed or chopped for herbal teas.
The rhizomes that remain in the soil after harvesting can restart the crop without having to reseed it. If you want to move the plant you need to keep some rhizomes and root them by making a cutting.
Properties, benefits, and contraindications. Licorice is a medicinal plant, to learn more about the interesting topic of its properties, I recommend reading the article dedicated to the properties of licorice root. In summary, licorice contains glycyrrhizin, a substance that can cause pressure increase. We must therefore be careful not to overdo the consumption of licorice. There are several medicinal benefits attributed to this plant, which has a digestive function, is useful for low blood pressure, and soothe coughs.
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