Gardening: Liquorice surprise
A plant which is well worth a try in Pakistan is Glycyrrhiza glabra, more commonly known as Liquorice. Although I have no confirmation, it may actually be cultivated here already, however, the dried liquorice roots sold by hakims are, I understand, imported from India where it is grown in commercial abundance.
Basically a temperate region species which thrives throughout the Mediterranean, this hardy perennial grows to a height of approximately four feet and each plant has a spread of around three feet which makes it a sizeable plant. Although rather difficult to germinate from seed — the writer has tried and completely failed quite a few times — it can be done. I suspect that I failed because spring temperatures in the mountains are on the low side for this species and summers are too wet.
Seed should be sown just under the surface of good quality, well draining, organic compost when the temperature is reasonably high but not roasting hot and the seed trays/pots should be placed in full sunlight and kept damp but not wet as seedlings are prone to damping off. If, however, you can obtain seed and get it to grow, the resultant plant is attractive, gets smothered in blue and white, pea-like flowers and the root has a wide variety of medicinal uses including in the treatment of coughs, colds, sore throats, chest congestion and in the healing of stomach ulcers. It is much simpler to cultivate liquorice by root division but, of course, you need to be able to get your hands on a living plant in order to do this. Trying to propagate from dried root pieces does not work — I have tried this too!
Now, having told you just how difficult actual liquorice can be, I will give you details of a liquorice plant of a completely different kind and one which, you will be delighted to know, grows merrily with very little effort. The plant, and I have come to adore it, in question is none other than ‘Agastache’ — Liquorice blue or Liquorice white, the blue and white being the colour of its attractive spikes of flowers which, aside from yours truly, are much loved by bees and butterflies.
There are actually very many varieties of Agastache and the majority are perennial but can, in very hot locations, be cultivated as a winter to spring annual from autumn sown seeds and the plants are all equally at home either in the flower border or the herb garden. Agastache also grows very well in pots and one variety, ‘Agastache cana’ sometimes called ‘Hummingbird mint’ is, in its native America, a well known mosquito repellent and, as its ‘common’ name implies, is mint scented and flavoured.
Liquorice Agastache germinates readily from seed and will send up its gorgeous flower spikes in as little as eight to 10 weeks after the seedlings emerge. The flower spikes are very long lasting, make excellent cut flowers and both smell and taste of liquorice as do the pretty leaves. This is why my own plants, some of them in an oblong clay pot on a ledge running along the front garden wall, tend to look a wee bit tatty as the self same wall just happens to be where the cell phone picks up the strongest signal and, while on lengthy phone calls, I just cannot resist the urge to nibble!
The flowers and leaves can be used in salads, on sandwiches and as an ingredient in cooling summer drinks but, unfortunately, lose much of their strength when dried although, to be perfectly frank, I have only dried a few, very few, due to the aforementioned reason.
Of the other Agastache varieties I have personally cultivated, I highly recommend the following: Agastache foeniculum or Anise Hyssop as it is also known, reaches a height of around two feet, is perennial and has — you’ve guessed it — aniseed flavoured leaves which are great to munch on whilst the liquorice Agastache is recuperating from being repeatedly ravaged.
This one has striking deep blue flower spikes and larger, serrated leaves than its liquorice flavoured cousin. Agastache Mexicana var. Sangria has lemon scented and flavour leaves and, depending on growing conditions, reaches a height of two to four feet, sending up whirls of reddish pink flowers as it grows.
Agastache pallidiflora ssp. Neomexicana, otherwise known as Rose mint, has lavender perfumed flowers and a very delicate minty rose flavour to its leaves. This variety is, at around a foot tall, more manageable in small spaces and flourishes in pots. There are many more species of Agastache, all of them fragrant and most of them delicious and, I’m perfectly sure that if, unlike me, you do not enjoy liquorice, you will find something else with which to tantalise your taste buds as well as your green fingers.
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