The plant grows in moist soils; although it will grow in heavy soil it prefers sandy soil. It grows to 40–100 cm (16–40 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.
American Licorice is not sweet from sugar but from glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin may increase blood pressure (aka hypertension) by interfering with cortisolconversion. 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. 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.