Commercially, liquorice plants are not harvested until they are four or five years old. However, in the home garden it is possible to take a small harvest after three years. But it you have the patience the rewards are worth it. Growing from seed isn’t especially difficult but germination can be erratic. Liquorice plants get larger every year so very deep containers are ideal – a dustbin is perfect, a metal one will make a good feature in your herb garden and the plants will give you height plus you can move it into shelter over the winter. With its violet or pale blue flowers and ferny foliage liquorice makes an attractive plant and you could underplant with annual herbs such as marigold. Price for 15 seeds
SOW: prior to sowing soak seed for 48 hours in warm water then sow seeds on the surface of potting compost in mid to late spring or early autumn. Don’t cover them. Keep them warm – about 20°C – germination can be erratic, so it is unlikely that all will come up and they can take several months.
GROW: transplant seedlings when large enough to handle to individual pots and grow on under glass for their first winter. Acclimatise and plant out the following spring/summer when danger of frost has passed. We recommend using a large deep container (such as a dustbin). They don’t like clay; a rich slightly sandy soil is best. Plants can reach 2m tall after 5 years. The roots can grow long – in a bed they can reach 4m or longer – container growing makes sense!
ENJOY: when it’s finally time to reap your just rewards, dig up your liquorice root plant. Roots should be harvested in autumn. The roots are brownish-yellow, long and flexible, with a yellow, juicy interior. The smell is of Anise and the flavour is sweet. Harvest the thickest horizontal roots but leave the deep tap root and thinner horizontal roots to grow on. Replant or bring it under cover for winter in very cold areas.
Chewed fresh, the root tastes sweet and a little salty. The sweetness intensifies the more you chew and release the sap. Liquorice can be used for flavouring a wide array of sweets, dishes and drinks. The roots can also be dried for later use in teas and baking. Try keeping a root in a jar of sugar to flavour cakes with.