Liquorice has been used as a sweet treat and flavouring for hundreds of years. You might know it as Pontefract cakes or as Liquorish Allsorts.
In 1305 Edward the First placed a tax on liquorice imports in order to finance the repair of the London Bridge.
Apart from culinary uses, did you know that liquorice also has many medicinal qualities?
From ancient times liquorice has been used to soothe sore throats, irritable coughs, colds, and bronchitis. It helps to relax bronchial spasms and can therefore be taken to ease bronchial asthma.
The fact that it clears the voice is mentioned in most herbal books throughout history.
In France, liquorice (réglisse) is a well known remedy to ease indigestion, it reduces acidity in the stomach and it soothes heartburn.
Research shows that it can help lower cholesterol levels.
400 different chemicals have been discovered in the root of the plant.
One of the active ingredients is ‘glycyrrhizin’ which has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
“Glycyrrhizin protects the mucous lining in the respiratory and in the digestive tract” says Johannes Mayer, a historian of medicine in Germany.
This explains why the plant works so well for respiratory and digestive problems.
In recent years liquorice has gained a reputation for helping the body to deal with stress by boosting production of adrenal gluco-corticoid hormones.
They are fundamental to the normal utilization of carbohydrate, fat and protein by the body and for a normal response to stress.
Eaten in large quantities liquorice can lead to water retention and increased blood pressure.
Do not take it for longer than 6 weeks.
The suggested dose is up to 1 tsp of the chopped root in a mug of water which is gently simmered for 10 to 15 minutes.
Drink up to three mugs a day.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Orange and liquorice ice-cream
The subtle liquorice flavour here blends beautifully with the warm tones of orange.
Enjoy it as it is, or with fruit puddings such as baked apples. I like Taveners Pontefract cakes, which are still made in Pontefract. Serves four.
100g plain liquorice sweets such as sticks or Pontefract cakes, chopped small
200ml whole milk
300ml double cream Finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ vanilla pod, split along its length
4 large egg yolks
50g caster sugar
Put the liquorice in a pan with 200ml water, bring to a boil, turn the heat low and simmer very gently, stirring often, for 15 minutes, until the liquorice has mostly melted and you have a dark syrup (don't worry if it doesn't dissolve completely).
Turn off the heat but leave in the pan. Put the milk, cream and orange zest in another pan. Scrape out the vanilla seeds and add to the pot, along with the scraped half-pod.
Bring to just below boiling, then set aside to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.
Whisk in the hot cream, then return to the pan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring all the time, until the custard is just below boiling and has thickened.
Pour on to the melted liquorice, stir for a minute or so, then pour through a sieve into a jug.
Cut out a piece of clingfilm or baking parchment to sit on the surface of the custard, to stop a skin forming, leave to cool, then chill.
Churn in an ice-cream machine until soft-set, transfer to a freezer container and freeze solid. (Don't worry if it's a bit grainy when frozen: this is because of the gelatine in the liquorice.)
Alternatively, pour into a plastic container and freeze for an hour, until the sides start to get solid.
Mash with a fork, mixing the frozen sides into the liquid centre, then freeze for another hour.
Repeat at hourly intervals until soft-set, then leave to freeze solid.