Chicory – Cichorium intybus / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family
Other Common Names:
Blue Sailors, Wild Succory, Common Chicory Root, Succory, Wild Chicory, Wild Endive, Chickory
Chicory is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia and Europe. Sometime in the near past, European settlers brought chicory to North America. After that, like European starlings, the rest is history. It has “invaded” North America.
Each chicory plant has a single, long, thick root (known as a ‘tap root’) which is what most people know chicory for. My first introduction to chicory was a person I worked with who brought chicory coffee to the office and shared it.
Chicory is an erect, branching, perennial herb that can grow from 1’ to 4’ tall. If dug up, the long, deep taproot can break if you are not careful. The large clustered lower leaves are coarsely toothed (serrated) growing from the plant base in a spreading rosette. Upper leaves are small imitations of the larger lower leaves. The small flower is bright blue and is about 1” in diameter. Leaves at the bottom are usually larger and longer – much like dandelion. Flowers usually close in bright sunlight.
Chicory is usually found in open areas. Driving down roads in the Northeast US in the summer, the straggly looking blue flowered plants you see are probably chicory. The plant can also be found in open fields, farm land, and transitional borders – from forest to field. It will grow in cracks of rock and blacktop. Basically wherever the seed lands that provides enough water and an open enough area without too much competition is where the plant will grow.
A native of “Old World, Europe and Africa” now all over North America – USA and Canada as well as other countries.
Primarily spring and summer.
The entire plant is useful. In spring and early summer young greens can be added to salads and/or eaten raw. In spring entire the plant can be cut off just below its rosette and used as potherb. The leaves can also be boiled or steamed much like spinach leaves when they are still young. Older chicory leaves have a tendency toward a bitter taste just like dandelion. Accordingly, they should be “double boiled”, bring the leaves to a boil, dump the water, fill the pot with fresh water and bring to a boil again. This should reduce the bitter taste.
Roots can be dug any time, washed and roasted until they turn dark brown and snap easily. The roasted roots are ground and brewed like coffee. Chicory coffee makes much stronger brew than coffee beans. Chicory root can also be boiled and eaten like any other root vegetable.
Notes of Interest:
Chicory is rich in vitamin A and also contains vitamin C, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and iron1
According to WebMD – “Chicory is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation, liver and gallbladder disorders, cancer, and rapid heartbeat. It is also used as a “tonic,” to increase urine production, to protect the liver, and to balance the stimulant effect of coffee.”
“Chicory root has a mild laxative effect, increases bile from the gallbladder, and decreases swelling. Chicory is a rich source of beta-carotene.”
WebMD also issues a warning about chicory: “Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking chicory by mouth in large amounts is UNSAFE during pregnancy. Chicory might start menstruation and cause a miscarriage.”
1. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Bradford Angier, Stackpole Books