This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Liquorice, Or Licorice, as formerly called, is a plant-product familiar to us all, whether by the succus hardened into the well-known black stick of Spanish juice, or as made into lozenges, or Pontefract tablets, or as the pipe Liquorice of the sweet-stuff shops. The Liquorice plant is grown abundantly at Mitcham, near London, for supplying our markets, the roots being dug up after a three-years' cultivation. But the search of Diogenes for an honest man was scarcely more difficult than would be that of an average person for genuine prepared Liquorice; this is because the juice is adulterated to any extent, and there is no definite standard of purity for the article now so commonly used. Potato starch, millers' sweepings mixed with sugar, and any kind of such rubbish are employed as adulterants. The Chinese make much use of the Liquorice root, and its juice, which they regard as rejuvenating, and very nutritious. "In their drug stores," says the Kew Bulletin (1899), "one can generally obtain a panacea for all bodily ills, this varying in the number of its ingredients according to the price paid, twenty-five, thirty-five, or fifty cents.
Such a prescription usually contains a few slices of Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza), with the dried flowers of some composite plant, dried cockroaches, dried cockchafers, and the skin, with head, and tail, of a lizard stretched on thin sticks.
An extra five cents will procure a dried sea-horse; and yet another five cents a dried fish of peculiarly narrow shape, and about four inches long. All these are boiled together, and the decoction drunk as a remedy for heartburn, toothache, cough, dimness of sight, and almost any other ailment. The vegetable portion of one of these mixtures has been examined at Kew.
Among the medicaments recognized were the fruit-heads of a species of Eriocaulon, which has a reputation in China for curing various diseases, such as ophthalmia, nose-bleeding, and some affections of the kidneys. Other vegetable ingredients were likewise botanically recognized, and identified. Liquorice is commonly employed as a pectoral in coughs, and hoarseness.
Chemically the root from which it is obtained affords a special sort of sugar, glycyrrhizine, a demulcent starch, asparagin, phosphate, and malate of lime, and magnesia, a resinous oil, albumin, and woody fibre. The extract is largely imported, that described as Solazzi juice being most highly esteemed, which conies to us in cylindrical, or flattened rolls enveloped in bay leaves. The sugar of Liquorice may be safely taken by diabetic patients. By far and away the best Liquorice lozenges (for inducing quiet sleep, and against constipation), are those of old fashion still to be obtained as the manufacture of "Smith," in the Borough, London; not the pilules. Old Fuller wrote respecting Nottingham: "This county affordeth the first, and best Liquorice in England; great is the use thereof in physick. A stick of the same is commonly the spoon prescribed to patients to use in any loaches. If (as the men of AEneas were forced to eat their own trenchers) these chance to eat their spoons, their danger is none at all." Liquorice is likewise used in various other articles of confectionery, in brewing, and to be mixed with tobacco:-
"But first he cheweth greyn, and lycorys To smellen sweete".
Miller's Tale. - Chaucer.