Latin Name: Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Family: Asteraceae or Compositae
Description: A perennial herb up to 1 m high. It forms clumps. It has white, milky sap when parts are broken off. Kinds have been selected either for their fattened edible roots or for their edible leaves. The plant has a large taproot. The leaves are sword shaped and have teeth along the edge. The leaves form a cluster around the base of the plant. They can be 12 cm long. The leaves up the stem clasp the stem. The highest leaves are reduced to bracts. It has a bright blue, pink or white flowers on a branched stem. The flowers are dandelion-like. The flower heads can be 3.5 cm across. Several cultivated varieties have been produced.
Notes: The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae” (“As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”). In 1766, Frederick the Great banned the importatation of coffee into Prussia leading to the development of a coffee-substitute by Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster (died 1801), who gained a concession in 1769/70 to manufacture it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795 there were 22 to 24 factories of this type in Brunswick. Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the “chicoree”, which the French cultivate it as a pot herb. In Napoleonic Era France chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee, or a coffee substitute. Chicory was also adopted as a coffee substitute by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, and has become common in the United States. It was also used in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885.
The cultivated chicory plant has a history reaching back to ancient Egyptian time. Medieval monks raised the plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink.
In the United States chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons. By the 1840s, the port of New Orleans was the second largest importer of coffee (after New York). Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the American Civil War cut off the port of New Orleans, thereby creating a long-standing tradition.
Chicory is also mentioned in certain sericulture (silk-growing) texts. It is said that the primary caretaker of the silkworms, the “silkworm mother”, should not eat or even touch it.
The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue Flower (e. g. in German language ‘Blauwarte’ ≈ ‘blue lookout by the wayside’). It was also believed to be able to open locked doors, according to European folklore.
Edibility Rating out of 5: 4
Medicinal Rating out of 5: 3
Edible Uses: Leaves – raw or cooked. The leaves are rather bitter, especially when the plants are flowering. The leaves are often blanched by excluding light, either by removing all the leaves and then earthing up the new growth, or by covering the plant with a bucket or something similar. Whilst this greatly reduces any bitterness, there is also a corresponding loss of vitamins and minerals. The blanched leaves are often used in winter salads (they are known as chicons) and are also cooked. The unblanched leaves are much less bitter in winter and make an excellent addition to salads at this time of year. Flowers – raw. An attractive addition to the salad bowl, but rather bitter. Root – cooked like parsnip. The boiled young roots form a very palatable vegetable. The root is said to be an ideal food for diabetics because of its inulin content. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by humans, it tends to pass straight through the digestive system and is therefore unlikely to be of use to a diabetic,however, the inulin can be used to make a sweetener that is suitable for diabetics to use. Chicory-root is free of harmful ingredients, and is essentially a concentrated combination of three sugars (pentose, levulose and dextrose) along with taraxarcine (the bitter principle of dandelion). It is especially important as source of levulose. Roots are used in seasoning soups, sauces and gravies, and to impart a rich deep colour. The roasted root is used as a caffeine-free coffee adulterant or substitute. Young roots have a slightly bitter caramel flavour when roasted, roots over 2 years old are much more bitter. Wild chicory leaves are usually bitter. Their bitterness is appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Liguria and Puglia regions of Italy and also in Catalonia (Spain), in Greece and in Turkey. In Ligurian cuisine the wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of preboggion and in Greek cuisine of horta; in the Puglian region wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche. In Albania the leaves are used as a spinach substitute, mainly served simmered and marinated in olive oil, or as ingredient for fillings of byrek.
By cooking and discarding the water the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sautéed with garlic, anchovies and other ingredients. In this form the resulting greens might be combined with pasta or accompany meat dishes. A common meal in Rome, puntarelle, is made with chicory sprouts.
Warnings: Excessive and continued use may impair function of the retina.
Medicinal Uses: Appetizer; Bach; Cardiac; Cholagogue; Depurative; Digestive; Diuretic; Hypoglycaemic; Laxative; Tonic; Warts.
Medicinal Information: Chicory has a long history of herbal use and is especially of great value for its tonic affect upon the liver and digestive tract. It is little used in modern herbalism, though it is often used as part of the diet. The root and the leaves are appetizer, cholagogue, depurative, digestive, diuretic, hypoglycaemic, laxative and tonic. The roots are more active medicinally. A decoction of the root has proved to be of benefit in the treatment of jaundice, liver enlargement, gout and rheumatism. A decoction of the freshly harvested plant is used for treating gravel. The root can be used fresh or dried, it is best harvested in the autumn. The leaves are harvested as the plant comes into flower and can also be dried for later use. The root extracts have experimentally produced a slower and weaker heart rate (pulse). The plant merits research for use in heart irregularities. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Possessiveness’, ‘Self-love’ and ‘Self-pity’. The latex in the stems is applied to warts in order to destroy them.
Other Uses: Biomass; Compost.
The roots have the potential to be used for the production of biomass for industrial use. They are rich in the starch ‘inulin’ which can easily be converted to alcohol. A blue dye has been obtained from the leaves. The flowers are an alternative ingredient of ‘QR’ herbal compost activator, a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost.