liquorice (or licorice) Glycyrrhiza glabra, a small leguminous plant whose thick roots, up to about 1 m (40") long, and underground runners contain a very sweet compound called glycyrrhizin. In its pure form this is 50 times sweeter than ordinary sugar; but the plant also contains bitter substances which partly mask the sweet taste. ‘Liquorice’ is a corruption of the original Greek name glycorrhiza, ‘sweet root’, which is also an old English name.
The plant, in one form or another, grows wild in parts of Asia and in S. Europe. Pieces of root or runner, cut into sticks and dried, provide a natural sweetmeat for chewing and are still widely sold in Asia, where liquorice has had a high reputation since ancient times for medicinal purposes.