As October comes to a close and autumn settles in, many children are focused on just one thing: Halloween. They dream of costumes and of bringing home their favorite candies (mine being the classic Hershey’s kiss). Thinking of candy, I began to wonder: what sweet treats did the Ancient Egyptians enjoy?
The answer came in a care package from my parents. Inside I found a box of tea in a flavor that I had never encountered before (those who are close to me understand the shock factor): A Yogi tea labeled “Egyptian Licorice”.
The description on the box detailed how “The great kings of Egypt treasured licorice root for its natural sweetness, rich flavor and restorative properties.” Could it be true? Of all things, LICORICE is a treasure?
Manuscripts dating to 360 AD have been found discussing the use of licorice to treat skin diseases, coughs, and eye ailments. There is even record of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar endorsing the benefits of eating licorice, Caesar using the plant as a treatment for his epilepsy. Napoleon was also an avid supporter of licorice, which he was said to find “soothing” during battle. It is said that he supposedly ate so much that his teeth turned black. (Never fear, the amount found in today’s candies will not leave you looking like you were cast as Imhotep in “The Mummy”)
But what IS licorice? Technically speaking, licorice is considered a weed. It grows to around 4 ft high and sprouts purplish flowers. The plant’s botanical name, Glycyrrhiza glabra, comes from the Greek word meaning “sweet root”, and the plant is grown in hot, dry locations.
Licorice in Ancient Egypt is described as being used as a medicinal cure for ailments such as stomach and liver problems,” said Dr. Mohamed Nafady, an expert in alternative medicine, who practices herbal medicine. There is further hieroglyphic record of licorice being in a popular men’s beverage up to the time of the writing of the bible!
Perhaps the best evidence of licorice use in Ancient Egypt came during the discovery of the tomb of the Great Pharaoh Tutankhamun, “King Tut”. Licorice was found in copious amounts in the tomb, amid his jewelry, gold, and other treasures. The sweet drink created from licorice, called “Mai Sus” was considered to be so precious to the young pharaoh that a large quantity was buried with him so he could enjoy it on his journey into eternity.
So as you trick or treat this Halloween, pick up a cup of “Mai Sus” and make a toast to your favorite Mummy, King Tut!