The Roadside Weed with Pretty Blue Flowers
Chicory is another of those plants people consider weeds – but it is so very useful, for medicine, for food, and even for coffee! Chicory is right up there with Dandelion in importance and usefulness.
Chicory seems to have grown just about everywhere. It is a common roadside and ditch plant in America and Europe. I can hardly drive down a road in Hannibal and not see chicory somewhere. Even where I work, there’s that ‘weed’ out by the handicap street sign. My patient’s mother begged me to ‘PLEASE feel free to pull it up and take it!” when she discovered it was a plant I appreciate. I laughed at her desire to rid herself of the pesky plant. The thing is though, I’ve tried to pull them up, and I just don’t have the strength. Their roots can go pretty deep and they don’t like to let go of the ground. About the only time I can pull up chicory with its root is if the ground is soaked from LOTS of rain. For the most part, the roots are used for coffee, and I don’t drink that much coffee, so I’m perfectly happy taking the easy route and just cutting off the top at the ground. That way the plant will also come back again and again…. . so every year I can oblige the family here and remove the top off the plants knowing that it’ll grow bigger and bigger for more harvest next year!
Chicory is a scraggly plant with blue flower heads and hairy stems. It grows one to four feet tall. The one sure way to identify it is to wait till it flowers. Those lovely light blue flowers on the tall stalks are unmistakable. Wild Chicory grows in bunches, not just single flowers. It doesn’t have any floral scent to talk about. Its flowers have serrated edges of about five ripples each flower and two sets of flowers one inner set and one outer set, each one stacked on the other. The center of the flowers has little stamens that are the same color as the flower. The plant blooms for several weeks during the summer. Another interesting feature of the Chicory plant is that it has two distinct types of leaves. At the bottom of the plant, the basal leaves look a lot like dandelions. As the plant grows taller, the leaves up higher get smaller. Around the base of the stem, the dandelion-like leaves are large, measuring approximately 7.5-15 cm. in length. Along the stem, the lanceolate-to-oblong-shaped leaves are considerably smaller. Chicory blooms from June to October. The flowers fully expand in the morning and close up in the afternoon.
Besides its many medicinal uses, Chicory is also wonderful for worming. As I’ve got many animals that can have worm issues (my goats being the worst) – I plan on planting lots of Chicory all over our farm to let it just go wild naturally (even more than it is now). That way the goats can decide for themselves whenever they need some. Its commonly used in this way on farms – spread intentionally for animal fodder – provides both food and worming naturally. It’s highly digestible by ruminants (a multi-stomach setup in plant-eating animals). My goats are ruminants – having a multi stomach setup – and they love Chicory.
Of course, people digest Chicory too – just sometimes I tend to think of my animal feeding needs before my own – imagine that? The leaves and flowers are wonderful in salads. The plant also has so many medical uses that I like to harvest at least a gallon each year. I cut the plant from the ground up, dry it well, then have my son grind it to a powder which I can sprinkle on just about anything and everything. This way I can incorporate a bit of chicory into our everyday life without it even being noticed. I’m notorious for doing this with other plant powder as well. I’ve got my quart jars of Gotu Kola and Fo-ti sitting right beside my jar of powdered Chicory! I admit to cheating on those though. Given my climate in Missouri, those two plants can’t live through the winter, and to truly harvest enough, you want good mature plants – which I just can’t seem to get – so I buy those and a few others.
According to Pliny (Ad23-79), chicory juice was mixed with rose oil and vinegar as a remedy for headaches. The ancient Egyptians ate large amounts of chicory. They believed the plant could purify the blood and liver. Romans used the roots as a vegetable, raw or cooked, and also used the root medicinally for liver problems. A poultice made of bruised leaves was used to treat swellings and inflamed eyes. The root was also boiled and taken internally as a tonic and to improve digestion. During medieval times, chicory was prescribed as a diuretic, laxative, and tonic, used “as a strengthener of the weak and feeble stomach.” Other internal uses were fever, inflamed eyes, pain in lactating breasts, “passions of the heart”, loss of appetite, gout, edema or swelling, headaches in children, and liver tonic. Externally, it was used for swelling and various skin conditions
Chicory was introduced to the American colonies by the governor of Massachusetts in 1785. It became a common household product serving as an herbal beverage and as a vegetable at mealtime. In recent years, it has been used as a caffeine-free beverage. President Jefferson worked with the British in 1809 to obtain seeds for Chicory, and by the war of 1818, it was reported to be ‘abundant’ around Philadelphia.
Chicory is a common vegetable in Europe, but here in America, most think of it as a pesky weed. I guess most people have forgotten how useful this weed is – much like the dandelion. Using chicory is so easy. You can just pick it fresh for salads (using leaves and flowers). The leaves won’t keep long, so you’ll want to pick them fresh as you need them. You can make a really good veggie side by boiling it for about 5-8 minutes, then draining, then saute it in olive oil or coconut oil – adding bell peppers, garlic, onions, or such if you’d like to have a sauteed veggie mix. You can also bake it in the oven in water with a bit of butter and a spoonful of sugar. This will caramelize and soften the chicory. Young roots can be cooked and eaten like parsnips. The leaves can be used like spinach. You’re only limited by your imagination in using this weed as a vegetable on your kitchen table.
Native Americans made tea from chicory leaves and blossoms to relieve congestion. Two of the large, toothed leaves and flowers were steeped in 1 cup of boiled water, covered for 15 minutes.
Now, most people do harvest the chicory root – for medicine, coffee, and food. It’s just such a bother to get it. If you do harvest it – then you’d need to roast it to save for later. You’d chop it into small pieces, and put it in your oven on the lowest setting for a good 8 hours to dry it completely to the brittle stage. Then you can let it cool, use a grinder of some sort to grind to however fine you want for your use, then store it in airtight containers for use in healthy caffeine-free teas or coffee. It will keep longer the larger the pieces are ground.
Chicory has diuretic properties, so it is great for detoxing and eating healthily. As with all vegetables, it contains fiber, which assists bowel movements and digestion, as well as making you feel full.
Chicory contains Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. It is known for its ability to help prevent jaundice and an enlarged liver when mixed with water and consumed. Chicory is a natural sedative and anti-inflammatory for the nervous system. It helps the body resist gallstones and liver stones. It provides the soluble fiber inulin, which feeds digestive flora in the intestines. The inulin content is not digestible, so its lack of glucose can help promote optimal blood sugar levels while also increasing stool bulk and consistency. Chicory aids in decreasing the levels of serum LDL cholesterol in the blood.
The leaves of chicory may also be used as compresses to be applied externally to ease skin inflammations and swellings. Bruise fresh Chicory leaves and apply to areas affected by gout, skin eruptions, swellings, skin inflammations, and rheumatism.
Chicory also supports the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a nutrient that helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Raftiline inulin and raftilose oligofructose are fibers extracted from chicory root that cannot be digested by the small intestine. Instead, they are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, leading to the increased absorption of calcium and other minerals.
Save a little tea and try dipping a cotton ball into it for a refreshing and soothing eyewash. You can also add a spoonful or two of honey to thicken and use it as a syrup for a mild laxative for kids.
Here’s a nice Liver Tonic recommended to use as a spring tonic to cleanse your liver:
2 Tbsp wild yam root
2 Tbsp milk thistle globes
2 Tbsp Oregon grape root
2 Tbsp dandelion root
2 Tbsp chicory root
2 Tbsp goldenseal root
Bring 2 cups of water to boil, remove from heat. Add the above ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and sip ½ to 1 cup throughout the day. Continue the next day or so till all is gone. Sweeten with honey if desired.
And this would be a tea to use if you have a problem with bloating:
2 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves
2 Tbsp dandelion leaves
2 Tbsp chicory leaves
2 Tbsp corn silk from fresh corn (can be dried and stored for later use like other herbs)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dandelion root
Bring 2 cups of water to boil, remove from heat. Add the above, cover, and steep for 15 minutes. Strain and sip 1 cup daily as needed. Caution – using diuretics can cause your body to lose potassium, which is vital to heart function. Putting in the finely chopped root will help counter this – but still, be careful not to use diuretics too heavily without a doctor supervising.
CULTIVATION / GROWING
Chicory flourishes in the wild, as well as in gardens all over the world. It may be found in Europe, the Near East, northern and southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America. It’s an easy plant to get established. Chicory grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. It can be easily started from seed. I like to harvest it when it’s got good full blooms so I know I have the right plant! I have to admit I’ve never planted any before as it’s just so easy to find, but I do plan on getting seeds to sow all over our backfields (for the animals).
Chicory leaf bitterness varies depending on the variety and its growing conditions. Leaves are harvested by hand, just before they come into full bloom. Chicory to be used in salads or as a spinach substitute must be cut like lettuce, at the bottom, preferably before the floral stems begin to grow.
MAGICAL / MYTHICAL USES
Chicory is bound to sun and air. It has quite a few magical properties, including strength, divination, favors, frugality, invisibility, good luck, frigidity, the opening of locks, removal of obstacles, and curse removal. Carried on the person, Chicory is supposed to remove obstacles in your life. Rubbing the juice of Chicory on the body is said to enable you to obtain favors from great people.
There are no known health hazards or side effects when chicory is added to the diet. The only possible minor side effect, noted by some, is skin irritation. If the hands become irritated after handling the chicory, it is best to cover them with gloves and treat the affected area as needed.
Chicory acts like a sedative on the central nervous system and could impair reaction time in some individuals. Therefore, you should think twice about having that extra cup of tea or coffee if you are planning to operate a vehicle or other machinery.
The information contained on this page is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.