Ivy & Liquorice

BF 17 Ivy and Liquorice.jpg
BF 17 Ivy and Liquorice.jpg

Ivy & Liquorice




Hedera, commonly called ivy, is a genus of 12–15 species of evergreen climbing or ground-creeping woody plants in the family Araliaceae, native to western, central and southern Europe, Macaronesia, north western Africa and across central-southern Asia to Japan and Taiwan. A common and familiar plant, Ivy is present throughout these islands. It can creep along the ground, forming a carpet, but is usually a climber, holding to fence posts or trees with small adhesive roots growing from the stem. It only flowers from these climbing shoots, whose leaves are unlobed and unlike those of the trailing shoots. Despite the name helix, it does not twine around its supports in the accurate conformation attributed to DNA. Ivy was once thought to have magic powers. The carol reminds us it was the companion to Holly at Christmas to deter demons and witches. In the Fens it was thought unlucky to bring into the home. In the Highlands and Islands it was used to keep evil away from milk, butter and animals by itself or with Rowan and Honeysuckle. There was a superstition that children could be cured of whooping cough by drinking milk from a cup of Ivy wood. The leaves can be used in poultices and fomentations, and a vinegar of the berries was used in London during the Plague.


Liquorice is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a sweet flavour can be extracted. The liquorice plant is an herbaceous perennial legume native to southern Europe and parts of Asia including India. It is not botanically related to anise, star anise, or fennel, which are sources of similar flavouring compounds. The Liquorice plant is not native to the British Isles but has been cultivated here for hundreds of years. Culpeper (1) said 'it is planted in fields and gardens . . . and thereof good profit is made'. Two other herbalists, Gerard (2) and John Parkinson (3) each mention it. It was known to Chaucer (4): 'Ther was eke wexing many a spice, As clowe gelofre, and licorice.' The plant may have been introduced to Yorkshire by the Black Friars in the 16th century - its cultivation immortalised in the 'Pontefract cakes'. The generic name of Glycyrrhiza noted by Dioscorides (5) derives from the two Greek words lukos, meaning sweet, and rhiza, a root. It was useful for dry coughs in the 3rd century BC and was recommended in the Grete Herball (6) of 1529. It is still used for coughs and chest complaints and to mask the bitter taste of some vegetable medicines like cascara. The Late Professor J.W. Fairbairn (7) told the 1968 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, it has been used to provide derivatives of glycyrrhetinic acid for use in cases of peptic ulcer. Here, as in other cases, even when such active principles can be synthesised by chemists, it is always more economic to let the plant to do the job for us.

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(1) Culpeper, Nicholas (1616-1654), botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer, A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Directory (1649) – translation of the Pharmacopoeia Londonesis of the Royal College of Physicians.); 1649;

(2) Gerard, John (c 1545-1612) botanist and herbalist, Great Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597;

(3) John Parkinson (1567–1650), herbalist, Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre or Theatre of Plants) 1640;

(4) Chaucer, Geoffrey (c 1343-1400), poet, The Romaunt (Romance) of the Rose c1440;

(5) Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD) Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, De Materia Medica;

(6) The Grete Herball (The Great Herbal) is an Early Modern encyclopaedia and the first illustrated herbal produced in English. Confirmed editions were printed between 1526 and 1561 and is considered the only known translation from French of Le Grant Herbier (1498).

(7) Professor of Pharmacology, University of London;