CHICORY, Cichorium intybus
Plants, like people, have their own very personalities. Plants, like some sunflowers, turn their heads to follow the sun because they like to have the sunshine in their faces from morning until night. Then there is the fragile Evening Primrose. It will open its beautiful yellow blossoms in the evening and stay awake all night. Then they will close, or wilt, the next morning. Now the chicory is a little different. It is an early riser. It opens its blue petals to greet the early-morning sun. By about noon it has had all the sun it can stand for one day, so the petals draw together tightly and the blossom closes. It sleeps for the rest of the day and all night, until the sun rises. If the morning is dark and the threatening, or if it rains, chicory will close its blossom tightly to protect its pollen. However, if the afternoon is a light, cloudy day, chicory could stay awake until sundown.
Chicory has been around for a long time. It was mentioned when Egypt was a young country. Its blue blossoms grew along the flood plains of the Nile River. It was first grown a vegetable. The blossoms and leaves were eaten as salad and in soups. The root was eaten like a parsnip or as a pot herb. Later, the Arabs used chicory as a laxative. The Greeks and the Romans used chicory as a liver tonic.
Most everyone has seen chicory growing in a garden or growing wild along a roadside. If you happen to be out in the mountains and you see a patch of beautiful light blue flowers growing against a hill, it is more than likely chicory. In some parts of the country, chicory is also known as succory.
Chicory is a perennial plant that grows to about four of five feet tall. The ray flower is light blue with toothed petals. They look similar to a daisy, except their stem grows out of leaf axles. The leaves have no stems, but clasp the stalk. The basal leaves are very sparse; they are not toothed like a dandelion. The upper leaves are very sparse, they are not toothed and they are smaller.
The root is similar to a parsnip and grows best in rich soil. The roots have been eaten as a pot herb for thousands of years. They are rich in mineral salts, lipids, vitamins B, C, K and P. It also contains potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and sodium. In the past few-thousand years, chicory has been used for almost every malady there is. Today, it is used mainly for the digestive system, spleen, gallbladder and the urinary system.
When the root is made into a tea, it increases the flow of urine; it is a tonic to the liver and will help rid the skin of the yellow pigmentation caused by jaundice. It will help get rid of gall stones, helps to get rid of excessive internal mucus, neutralizes acid indigestion, lowers rapid heart beat and lowers cholesterol. One study in India said chicory tea is a male birth control.
For the last few-hundred years chicory has been used as a coffee substitute, or as an additive that improves the taste of coffee. Besides being an herb for glandular problems and a coffee additive, chicory is also raised for its blanched leaves. In Europe, it is known as Belgium endive or witloof chicory. This crop is raised in the late fall and winter by planting a root in some sand and putting a bucket over the plant. The leaves come up blanched and very tender. This process takes the bitterness out of the leaves, so they don't have to be blanched.
The chicory leaves are used as poultices for strains and sprains or to reduce swelling. Some plants are tender while others are just simply tough. The chicory plant is one of the tough ones. It has survived or been in use for more than 2,000 years. When a plant species has survived that long, it has been used for almost every medicinal purpose there is. Not bad for a pretty blue flower that tastes like coffee.