How to Harvest and Use Chicory

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PhotobucketChicory (Cicorium intybus) 

Another fantastic little plant easily found on roadsides and fields is chicory.  This versatile blue-flowered beauty works for a number of ailments, and it’s fun to work with as you’re about to find out.

Identifying:  The basal leaves (that crown at the bottom) look a lot like dandelions, and the leaves a little higher up get smaller.  The blue flowers have squared tips and are considered “stemless”.   Chicory blooms from June to October and is a biennial or a perrenial.  

Parts Used:  Roots, leaves

Harvesting:  Here comes the fun part.  Much of chicory’s power is in the root, so dig the whole thing up.  Be careful with the leaves – you don’t want to damage them.  They make a great addition to salads, in particular the smaller upper leaves.  They’re similar to dandelion but less bitter.  As for the root, this is great for roasting.  Gather up several, wash, and chop.  Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in an oven at 325º for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10.  Grind it up in a coffee grinder and use it as a tea or a mellow coffee substitute.  (Read How to Use Chicory as a Coffee Substitute for brewing directions.)

Medicinal Uses:  Chicory’s medicinal use list is long and impressive, so hang onto your seats:  Diuretic, laxative, jaundice, skin conditions and eruptions, fevers.  As an extract it lowers blood sugar.  It’s cardiotonic and slightly sedative.  Also used for liver and gallbladder ailments, gallstones, gastroenteritis, sinus issues, cuts, bruises.  Root extract (stronger than leaf) is antibacterial.  Root extract in alcohol solutions has an anti-inflammatory effect.  The volatile oils are used to eliminate intestinal worms and other internal parasites.  Cleanses the blood, improves liver health and thereby improves hormonal imbalances.  Rids the body of uric acid, treats rheumatism, increases bile production, moderates rapid heart rate, lowers cholesterol.  Whew!  Aren’t you glad you asked?

What makes it work?:  Much of the chicory’s power is in those volatile oils.  The oils are strongest in the root, but it’s found in the entire plant.

Allergic Reactions:  May cause rare allergic reactions.  Some folklore will tell you long-term use can impair vision, but there hasn’t been any evidence found to support this.

Interesting Notes:  While chicory root is a popular coffee substitute, it’s actually used as a coffee additive in the Mediterranean, India, South East Asia, and in Louisiana as both an additive and a substitute.

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