Chicory is a member of the Sunflower family
(Asteraceae).This prolific and invasive weed is also known as Blue Sailors, Succory, Hendibeh, Wild Chicory, Coffeeweed and Wild Endive. It will grow nearly anywhere, on Rocky roadsides, waste areas, open fields and meadows. It mostly grows spontaneously and spread rapidly, but it is cultivated either specifically for the root or specifically for the leaves (called French Endive.
Chicory was known and used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, having been mentioned in the writings of Horace, Virgil, Ovid and Pliny. The first known reference to the plant was in an Egyptian Papyrus dated 400 BC, which makes it one of the oldest plants known to man. The name Succory may come from the Latin word succurrere which means to run under, because of the deep running tap root of the plant. It may also be a corruption of the Egyptian word, Ctchorium. Arabian Physicians called the plant Chicourey. It seems that no matter where it is found, the basic sound of the name is retained.
Chicory was introduced into Europe in the middle ages and cultivated for food and for fodder. It is marginally successful for fresh grazing, but does not dry well to store for later use. Chicory was brought to the United States by the colonists. After the Boston Tea Party in 1775 it became unpatriotic to drink tea, so they turned to coffee, in 1785 the Governor of Massachusetts discovered the European secret of flavoring the drink and imported Chicory to help make coffee more palatable to the new Americans. Because it adapts so well to its environment, there is not a place in the country where Chicory is not found.
The chicory plant is tall, 1-4 feet and very stringy. The leaves are large, hairy, and clustered at the base of the stalk (basal leaves). The stalk itself has very sparse leaves – for the most part the stalk is bare but much branched, so while the plant may be very large it looks emaciated. The flowers are a unique copen blue and stockless, blooming directly on the side of the plant stem. The flowers open in the morning and fade and close by noon. They are probably the shortest lived of the wild flowers. While most of the chicory flowers are blue they are known to bloom in pink or white. The plant blooms from late spring to early fall.
Probably the best known use for Chicory is as a coffee additive or a caffeine-free substitute. The large taproot is harvested from fall through early spring. The roots are scrubbed and roasted in a 300 degree F oven until dark brown, brittle and fragrant. Ground and use like regular coffee, about 1 ˝ tsp per cup of water or mixed it with ground coffee to darken and add a unique flavor to the brew. It is said to help counteract the effects of the caffeine in the coffee.
The young leaves of the plant can be eaten fresh in a salad much like endive to which it is related. Older leaves will be bitter, so they are boiled with at least two changes of the water and served with butter and salt it is said to be better than dandelion greens. Chicory can also be used to deepen the color and flavor of gravy, stews, sauces, breads and deserts. The flowers were used along with violets in the days of Charles II to make a confection called “Violet Plates”.
The plant has been used as a medicinal herb since antiquity in just about the entire known world. In Asia it has been used as a cure for headaches, inflammations, sore through and skin allergies as well as a cure for malaria. The root when sliced and simmered for up to 20 minutes makes a decoction and is strained and used as a blood purifier or as a skin wash for irritations including athlete’s foot. The leaves are steeped in hot water to make a tea for the same purpose. The decoctions and teas from the Chicory can be listed as a tonic, a laxative and a diuretic.
The boiled leaves and flowers can be wrapped in a clean cloth and applied to swellings, boils and mild inflammations. From the flowers, a wash was distilled to treat inflammations of the eyes.
Chicory is also the caterpillar food source plant for several European Butterflies and moths including the Turnip Moth and the Setaceous Hebrew Character Butterfly. I could find no US Butterflies that use Chicory as a host plant.
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KayDee Ward....All Rights Reserved