Issue No. 168 - June 12, 2005
by Sue Sweeney
Where ever Eurasian humans have gone, they have
taken chicory with them as well as such other mixed
blessings as garlic mustard, house cats, and Norway
rats. Accordingly, North American humans share the
joy of sky-blue chicory along a hot, dusty road in
mid-summer (and also share the work of weeding it
out of the vegetable garden) with other members of
their species in temperate regions as far way as
Algeria, Albania; Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Austria,
and Australia (just to survey the A’s).
|Picture: chicory flower with a small
insect, probably a beneficial, insect-eating predatory.
Bedford Street, Stamford CT June 2004.
"Hardy" is a woefully insufficient word to describe
chicory, pictured below in the "lawn" of my local
police station during the severe drought of 2002.
Like that other European invader, Queen Anne's lace
of the carrot clan, chicory is blessed (or armed,
depending on your point-of-view) with a deep
taproot. Indeed, during a late summer drought in the
Northeast, Queen Anne’s lace and chicory are often
only plants blooming along the roadside.
|Picture: chicory surviving the drought at
the Stamford, CT Police Station, Summer 2002.
Chicory (cichorium intybus) (also
called “blue sailors”) is a member of the
daisy (composite) family (also know as the
aster-sunflower family, etc.). Chicory is
sibling of the cultivated endive (Cichorium
endivia ) (Chinese), and a cousin of the
dandelion (European). Chicory's leaves
resemble those of its dandelion cousin. Like
the other “wild lettuces”, chicory has a
white milky sap and its seeds are spread by
wind and bird. Interestingly, chicory
flowers, which last only a day, open and
close at set times, making chicory useful as
a "floral clock".
Humans have probably
used chicory for medicine and food as long
as there have been humans in Eurasia.
Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian writings
are said to refer to chicory as a specific
for the liver, and for the urinary and
digestive tracks, and as well as a poultice
for external inflammations. Today, it is
reported that modern studies with animals
confirm that chicory may be able to lower
pulse rate and reduce cholesterol. (If
you’re going to opt for an herbal remedy,
please apply common sense: do your homework
and thoroughly check multiple sources on the
|Picture: chicory’s basal rosettes lurking
in the lawn of the Stamford, CT Police Station, June 2005.
These are the same plants pictured in the 2002 shot above or
some of the children.
In the U.S.A., today, we use chicory in New
Orleans-style coffee, and include it in
fresh salad mixes at fancy restaurants,
often under the name “Belgium endive” or
“radicchio”. Our rabbits are reputed to be
very fond of it, and it is being promoted as
a prebiotic digestive aid for dogs. It is
said that farmers can be economically
damaged by the wild chicory because chicory
can contaminate seed; accordingly, in a few
states, chicory has “noxious weed” status.
Whether chicory is truly a harmful invader
like garlic mustard or Norway maple is
The Europeans blanch
chicory for salad. Blanching, a process
often used with asparagus, is done by
growing the plant in the dark which keeps
the leaves pale and mild in flavor.
Blanching can be done outdoors by keeping
the young chicory plants covered with soil,
and indoors by sprouting chicory roots in a
dark, cool place.
Several countries use chicory for animal
fodder. In New Zealand, chicory is planted
as a cover crop between the rows in grape
arbors so that the long taproots can absorb
excess water, making the grapes sweeter. In
old times, the flowers were used as a blue
dye, and the roots, with other chemicals,
were used for a yellow dye.
For The Monday Garden’s
"Eat An Invader Today" Club, try oranges and
chicory salad with a poppy seed dressing, or
tomatoes and chicory with vinaigrette
dressing. (However, be very careful about
your plant source: never eat plants growing
near road, driveways, or parking lots where
the soil has been exposed to heavy metals
from car exhausts, or from under roof-eaves
that often drip with roof chemicals,
uncultivated places used from dumping, and,
while we’re at it, some lawn and garden
chemicals are potentially pretty serious
stuff, too. )
Enjoy chicory but don't over indulge.
While the highly-respected Purdue University
Center for New Crops and Plant Products
says, categorically, that at least the
chicory-root “is free of harmful
ingredients”, like many foods with strong
medical properties, chicory might not be
good for you in large quantities.