LIVING OFF THE LAND series… THE HUMBLE CHICORY
Ahhh, the beautiful Chicory plant – with its’ awesome blue flower, and its long history of aiding humans.
It’s a fairly ‘new’ plant to the US, but because of its usefulness, its use is now almost world wide.
Actually, it’s usually described as a ‘scruffy weedy‘ plant, with two- or three- foot stick like stems and milky sap. But with it’s bright, and almost iridescent blue flowers, you can overlook its ‘scruffiness’.
It originally naturalized from Europe, and is now a common roadside plant from throughout the United States. The plant was very likely imported as a hay crop in the 1700’s.
Farmers who use it as such maintain that chicory is better than alfalfa because it produces more hay in one season. Thomas Jefferson made written references to this remarkable plant, saying that any farmer would benefit from raising it for cattle.
Europe has enjoyed this plant for at least 300 years, and Egypt used its unique properties to to treat their liver and gallbladder problems.
They consumed chicory in large quantities because they believed that the herb could purify the blood and eliminate the toxins from the liver. Properties similar to the dandelion. In France during Napoleonic times chicory was used as a coffee substitute. England and the United States soon followed this example. It also stimulates digestion and the pancreatic secretion, regulating the amount of glucose in the human body.
This herb is also recommended in fighting the sleepy states and asthenia – this is owed to the substances that it contains (like chicorine and choline).
There are many names associated with this plant such as wild succory, Belgian endive, bun, cornflower, coffeeweed, witloof, blue or ragged sailors, blue daisy, blue dandelion, and bachelor’s buttons. Its scientific name is Cichorium intybus.
While the root of this herb is used as a coffee substitute, the other parts are can be used either in cooking , creating fresh salads, or as a medicine. Chicory stimulates the nervous system by sustaining the mental capabilities and concentration. Making a distillation of the flowers creates a liquid that soothes and heals sore and inflamed eyes. It is used as an effective liver cleanser, combats fat in the system, lowers rapid heartbeat, neutralizes acid indigestion, and dissolves gallstones.
To make this very coffee-like substance, dig up some of the long taproots, scrub them thoroughly, split them lengthwise and roast them slowly (325 degree oven) until they are hard and brittle, showing dark brown on the inside. Then chop and grind as you would coffee beans. Chicory is stronger than coffee, so remember to use less!
If you want a fresh, and truly delicious salad, or even as a cooked green, nothing except the dandelion rivals the taste or the nutritional value of the green leaves. It is important to harvest these leaves while they are very young (it’s recommended to actually pick the leaves the day they open) as they become bitter within a very short time after exposure to the sun.
One way to enjoy the new leaves without bitterness, is to place a bag or some other cover, over the plant, to bleach out, or blanch the leaves and prevent the bitterness from developing. The French actually originated a way to avoid this by digging up the roots and placing them in dark cellars, forcing them during the winter so they could have fresh greens all year round, without any fear of bitterness developing. Which is actually a great idea. Growing dandelions and chicory in your basement during the winters will ensure health, and tasty greens.
Some people have said the roots make a great vegetable, but after digging them up, cleaning and peeling them, and then cooking them – I think you will find the taste unremarkable enough to make the work involved too much trouble. Using the roots for a coffee additive or substitute is much better.
If all this isn’t enough for you, consider the birds the chicory can attract! Goldfinches and other birds love chicory seeds. And it’s good for them too! What a plant… Check out more articles on ‘LIVING OFF THE LAND‘.