Harvesting Licorice
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Courtney Plain
Posted on: July 18, 2004

Thankyou for responding so promptly to my last question, your help was greatly appreciated.

My next question is in regards to licorice. How do I harvest it? I know that the root is where the medicinal properties are harbored, but should the plant mature for a while before I uproot it for its medicine? And some tips on tinctures again would be really helpful.

As a general rule perennial root crops are best harvested in the year that they reach maturity. What constitutes "maturity" is not precisely defined, but generally it is when the plant is large enough to flower fully. For example, angelica flowers in the second or third year so the roots are harvested in the fall of the year that it flowers. Some perennial herbs will flower at an early, still immature stage, throwing up a small display of flowers, but these need another year to reach the full flowering stage. Echinacea is an example: some plants may flower in the first or second years, but they need an extra year to reach full maturity.

In the case of licorice, it takes 3-4 years to reach full flowering stage. In the first two years, the plants reach a height of 30-50 cm (12-20 inches); by the third or fourth year, at maturity, they can get up to 1 m (3 feet) or higher. The lavender-blue flowers resemble the flowers of peas, and are arranged in short spike-like clusters. Another sign of maturity is the development of horizontal stolons or "runners" radiating from the plant just below the surface of the soil; these "runners" will eventually produce more plants if left undisturbed.

To harvest the roots, remove the soil around the sides of the plants carefully to expose the roots. You must dig at least 30-60 cm (1-2 ft) down. Lift the whole root system and wash to remove the soil. The useable roots are at least the thickness of a pencil; and they are cut into lengths of 30-60 cm and dried or used fresh.

For details on making herbal tinctures, search the "Q&A" section of our website for "tinctures"; past articles will come up.


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