Learning about Spices
What is a spice?
Why were spices important?
Sources of spices
Perfumes and Incenses 
Use of spices as aphrodisiacs
Use of spices as medicines
Culinary herbs
A spice timeline

Table of Spices
Allspice (Pimento)
Black Pepper
Chile Pepper
Coriander (Cilantro)
Frankincense and Myrrh
Nutmeg and Mace

Contacts and Acknowledgments
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Genus SpeciesGlycyrrhiza glabra
Origin Russia, China
Cultivated England, Southeast Europe, Scandinavia
Description The taste of licorice is similar to that of aniseed and fennel, and thus licorice can be considered to be a spice. However, it has a long history as being of value as an herbal remedy, and it is therefore often considered to be an herb rather than a spice. The licorice plant is a member of the bean family, but its seed pods are hair free in contrast to similar plants. Its roots contain the very sweet, characteristic juice, and as a tribute to this, the plant is named Glycyrrhiza glabra – meaning the sweet root with hairless seed pods. Corruption of the Greek name glyrrhiza led to the other official name, Liquiritra officinalis; the medieval name was gliquiricia from which the name licorice or liquorice is obtained. The sweetest sources of licorice come from plants growing in Spain and Italy, although it is probable that the original plant came from Russia or China. Spanish licorice was brought to England, and it became an important product in the town of Pontefract.

The pleasant quality of true licorice led to it being incorporated into many traditional Chinese remedies, where it was credited with harmonizing the body’s response when it was exposed to the contrasting actions of other herbs in the formula. It has also been utilized in Chinese spice mixtures, and is often incorporated in desserts, confectionaries, candies and alcoholic drinks. Further uses include its addition to tobaccos and snuff. Currently, it is included in many simple medications, especially for pharyngitis and cough. Traditionally, the list of indications is very extensive, and includes infections, aphthous ulcers, skin disorders, rheumatic and other inflammatory diseases, asthma, hepatic and gastroduodenal diseases.

There is no doubt that glycyrrhizin has an aldosterone like effect, and excessive intake of licorice can cause hypokalemia and hypertension. However, the claimed value of licorice products in treating hypo-adrenal states is disputed. Other hormonal effects have been suggested, including impairment of gonadal function.

Thus, this ancient herbal spice has dubious medical values that are complemented by its undoubted toxic potential. It may surprise many people in the U.S. to know that familiar licorice candy is usually not true licorice, since the flavor is generally provided by aniseed, molasses and corn syrup. Eaters of typical U.S. licorice products may put on weight, but this will not be explainable by the hormonal effects of the compounds found in true licorice. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.
Useful Parts The roots and rhizomes are the important source for the flavor
Medicinal PropertiesLicorice contains several active phytomedicines. The main one is the saponin-like triterpene glycoside, glycyrrhizin (also called glycyrrhizic acid and glycyrrhizinic acid), which is much sweeter than sugar. This compound is hydrolyzed in the bowel to glycyrrhetic (or glycyrrhetinic) acid, which is also called enoxolone. The latter has been marketed as a succinate derivative, carbenoxolone, which is prescribed in Europe and Japan as a treatment for gastric ulcers, although its value is uncertain. Licorice flavonoids are believed to have antioxidant properties. Additional effects of glycyrrhizin include the surprising finding in Japan that this agents helps improve liver function in hepatitis C. Similarly, some reports demonstrate improvement in AIDS. All such studies raise unanswered questions as to the true value of licorice in the modern era.
See chemicals in spices.
Historical View “Liquorice root possesses demulcent properties: and hence is useful to allay cough, and in catarrhal affections. It has also been found serviceable in irritable conditions of the mucous membrane of the urinary organs, etc."

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)
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Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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