Glycyrrhiza lepidota (American licorice) is a species of Glycyrrhiza (a genus in the pea/bean family, Fabaceae) native to most of North America, from central Canada south through the United States to California, Texas and Virginia, but absent from the southeastern states. It is also sometimes known in the United States as "wild licorice", to distinguish it from the related European liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) which is occasionally cultivated.
The plant grows in moist soils; although it will grow in heavy soil it prefers sandy soil. It grows to 40–100 cm (16–39 in) tall, and has long tough brown roots which are said to be sweet and were used as food and for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. After eating a roasted root in 1806, Meriwether Lewis described an "agreeable flavour not unlike the sweet pittaitoe."
American licorice is not sweet from sugar but from glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin may increase blood pressure (aka hypertension) by interfering with cortisol conversion. The Zuni people chew the root to keep the mouth sweet and moist.
American licorice is grazed by cattle, but not preferred and will increase under grazing as competing plants are grazed off. The new growth can be toxic. It has light green to white flowers in the spring which ripen in the fall to clusters of burs which contain pods of small bean-like seeds.
It can be used as a pioneer species to revegetate bare or disturbed ground and is often the first species to invade a receding alkali flat.
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