Chicory: A Medicinal & Culinary Perennial (And How To Make Roasted Chicory Root)
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a fascinating nutritional and medicinal plant.
Part of the aster family if is native to the northern Middle East to southern Balkan Peninsula. It has naturalized to North America, Europe and Australia. It is a plant with many names including wild endive, cheveux de Paysans,Succory, just to name a few.
This is a versatile plant, providing an important bitter element to your diet. You can use all parts of the plant from roots, shoots, leaves and flowers.
This is a fast growing perennial and there are both wild and cultivated varieties. I honestly found this a bit confusing when I wanted to buy seeds. You are best to seek a local forager, pick up a foraging guide and check with local seed houses to determine which varieties you can access.
You can harvest the wild plants or you can grow your own from seed. All varieties can be used from leaf to root. We find it very difficult to dig up the roots in the wild so we chose to cultivate our own. We are growing 'Italiko Red chicory' in a raised bed box this year. We'll try and gather seeds of the wild growing chicory as well. This drought tolerant, easy to please perennial has just become one of our tough growing season rock stars.
.... A Little Chicory History
Historically, chicory was grown by the ancient Egyptians as a medicinal plant, coffee substitute, and vegetable crop and was occasionally used for animal forage.source
The War-time Coffee Substitute
Post world war II coffee was still being rationed and by then people had devised all sorts of ways to enjoy a hot coffee like drink. I love how resourceful people can become when they need to.
I was over in England when my Great Aunt Margaret offered us a drink of coffee, which turned out to be a bottle of 'Camp Coffee' a dark syrup containing caffeine, sugar and chicory essence. This was a product that first came out in around 1876 (according to wikipedia). My mother in a moment of nostalgia exclaimed that this her mum had loved chicory 'coffee' and drank it daily which piqued my interest and journey into cultivating this plant.
Chicory root is high in vitamin C, antioxidants and is a rich source of beta-carotene and inulin. The tuber supports digestion by increasing bile production. It's all about that bitter element that many people are missing from their diets. Bitter is incredibly important for supporting and strengthening our digestive functions. Chicory can assist with a wide range of digestive issues.
Chicory is said to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, anti parasitic properties. The root can be used to aide with symptoms digestive disorders such as feeling full, flatulence and slow digestion. It can increase appetites for those suffering with a loss of appetite. It also provides glucose control, the root contains up to 40% inulin, which is a zero on the glycemic index, offering a negligible effect on raising blood sugar.
Chicory holds a bitter taste. In ayurvedic teachings, “bitter” is beneficial for reducing water retention, reducing weight, cooling skin rashes, fever, burning, and nausea.source
Ancient Romans used Chicory root as a ‘cleansing’ medicinal herb, they prescribed it to cleanse the blood.source
How to use the whole plant
The root/tuber is most commonly used dried, granulated, and roasted as a coffee substitute, or additive to coffee grounds. As a vegetable, it can be boiled and eaten. It can be steeped in hot water for a tea or used as an ingredient for fermenting/brewing of beers.
The buds and young leaves can be used in salads or cooked like spinach and other greens. To reduce the bitterness quickly blanch the leaves in boiling water and then cook them as you would like from there. Sautéed with garlic and butter is always nice and they are also nice in soups and stews.
The blossoms have been reportedly used as a wash or poultice made from steeping the blossoms and leaves was used to treat wounds. Research has shown that the blossoms have some antimalarial properties.
Look at these perfectly cultivated roots! Ours were skinny in comparison.
The leaves can be chopped up and tossed into soups and stews (our favourite), They can be sprinkled in salad to add a bitter element (quite nice in moderation). If you find them too bitter you can boil them in water for a few minutes, strain and then cook, this will lessen the bitter taste. We dehydrated some leaves so that we can use them in soups and stews for the winter.
Modern Medicinal Applications
When applied topically as a poultice, the raw and crushed leaves of chicory can help treat and prevent fungal growth on the skin.
When brewed into a hot tea or herbal infusion, chicory infusions can help prevent liver damage and fight sinus infections.
When consumed raw, chicory can aid digestive functions.
The leaves and root of chicory can be tinctured in alcohol to extract the antioxidant properties of the plant.
Here are some old world uses as found at botanical.com. source
A decoction of 1 OZ. of the root to a pint of boiling water, taken freely, has been found effective in jaundice, liver enlargements, gout and rheumatic complaints, and a decoction of the plant, fresh gathered, has been recommended for gravel.
Syrup of Succory is an excellent laxative for children, as it acts without irritation.
An infusion of the herb is useful for skin eruptions connected with gout.
The old herbalists considered that the leaves when bruised made a good poultice for swellings, inflammations and inflamed eyes, and that 'when boiled in broth for those that have hot, weak and feeble stomachs doe strengthen the same.' Tusser (1573) considered it - together with Endive - a useful remedy for ague, and Parkinson pronounced Succory to be a 'fine, cleansing, jovial plant.'
Roasted chicory root top centre @walkerland
How To Make Roasted Chicory Root
This roasted chicory can be used for a wide range of purposes from medicinal aromatic bitters, tinctures, tea, coffee, beer and most famous as an additive to coffee. Chicory enhanced Coffee is darker, richer and more complex in flavour. You just need to add a heaping spoon of ground chicory to your coffee grounds and brew away.
- Dig up your chicory root. In our experience this requires a lot of patience as it likes to grow in hard packed, rocky soil. - - Dig around the root to expose as much of it as you can and they pry it up with a good tool.
- Wash and scrub all dirt off the roots.
- Allow to dry for several days or 5-6 hours in a dehydrator.
- Chop up the root into small pieces and spread on a cast iron pan (or whatever oven tray or pan you have)
- Roast on the lowest setting of your oven, nice and slow. We roasted at 200-ish degrees F for about 6 hours. The roots should visibly be turning darker brown as you roast them. Be sure to turn the roots and shake the pan occasional while roasting. Be careful not to burn them.
- Store in an airtight container. You can grind them up using a coffee grinder or mortal and pestle into a coffee ground like consistency or leave them as they are and grind up as needed.
Further reading on Chicory
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