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The Monday Garden
Invaders' Salad: Chicory

Issue No. 68 - July 13, 2003
by Sue Sweeney

  
 "Hardy" seems a woefully insufficient word to describe chicory, pictured here in the "grass" at our local police station during last summer's severe drought.
 

 
Chicory (cichorium intybus) is a member of the aster-sunflower family, related to dandelions (European) and the endive (Chinese).  Humans have used chicory for medicine and food probably since there were humans in Central Europe.  Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian writings refer to it as a specific for the urinary and digestive tracks, and the liver, as well as a poultice for external inflammations.  

Sky-blue chicory has been a life-long summer companion.  Along with Queen Anne's Lace, another European invader blessed (armed?) with a deep taproot, it's often only plant blooming in a drought.   Chicory's leaves resemble those of its dandelion cousin, and chicory also has a white milky sap.   Chicory's seeds are spread easily by wind and bird.   While chicory, like dandelions, is ubiquitous, it doesn't appear on the North American dangerous invasive species lists.  Interestingly, its flowers, which last only a day, open and close at set times, making chicory useful for a "floral clock".

In the USA, we do use chicory in New Orleans-style coffee, and include it in fresh  "mesclun" salad mixes at fancy restaurants.  Our rabbits are reputed to be very fond of it and it's being promoted as a prebiotic digestive aid for dogs.

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 it's planted as a cover crop between the rows in grape arbors; the long taproots 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 with poppy seed dressing. www.liglobal.com/hf/diet/recipes/salad/food.shtml or tomatoes and blanched chicory with vinaigrette dressing www.taoherbfarm.com/herbs/herbs/chicory.htm . For interesting uses for radicchio, the Italian version of chicory, see  http://italianfood.about.com/blind47.htm

However, don't overindulge. Like many foods, chicory is not good for you in large quantities.
  
From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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