Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a bushperennial plant with blue, lavender, or occasionally white flowers.It grows as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe and in North America and Australia where it has become naturalized. Common chicory is also known as Blue Daisy, Blue Sailors, Coffee Weed, France endive etc. The cultivated forms are grown for their leaves , or for the roots , which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to their stouts.
Chicory is also the common name in the US and in France for curly endive (Cichorium endivia). There is considerable confusion between Cichorium endivia and Cichorium intybus.
Culinary: Chicory was used as a salad plant since ancient times, first by the Egyptians, then by the Greeks and the Romans, and it was imported to Denmark by the monks; in Denmark is only found the imported medicinal herb Cichorium intybus, common chicory. Chicorium intybus is not common in Danish kitchen gardens, but it is considered an indispensable salad plant to Italy and France. The flowers are eatable and decorative in a salad with their fine blue colour. Shots of Common chicory, which has grown in darkness, are in Denmark sold in late autumn as Julesalat (Christmas salad).
Medicinal: Since ancient times chicory was used against liver, kidney and bilious diseases, dropsy, consumption, bubonic plague, gout, haemorrhoids, indigestion, melancholy and hypochondria. Already Plinius recommended it as a means against indigestion. A dekokt of the flowers was used as an eyewash.The medieval physician Henrik Smid recommended the herb to treat the eyebrows or else they could fall off. Chicory was also considered an aphrodisiac and used against poisoning.
Medicine today: Tea of flowers and dried leaves are good in stomach, liver and spleen problems and for haemorrhoids. Chicory root extract is high in inulin and used as a high-fiber dietary supplement. Dekokt of the herb is appetizing, good for the stomach and the bile.
Caution: If allergic to ragweed or other members of the Compositae family approach use of chickory with caution. In rare cases contact with the fresh plant can cause allergic skin reactions.
Coffee substitute: In the Napoleonic Era in France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee or a coffee substitute; this practice also became common in the United States and the United Kingdom, in England (and Denmark) during the second world war and in Camp coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, which has been on sale since 1885. In the United States chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons.
Superstition: A young girl was sitting by the road, crying because her lover had disappeared, and where her tears fell, the chicory grew up. If a girl (Eastern Europe) had chicory in her boots and put the chicory in a pair of man's trousers under her pillow, she would see her husband-to- be. A legend tells about a girl ,who denied to give Christ something to drink, and as a punishment she had to stand by the road in the shape of a chicory. A variation of the legend: The pretty blue flowers of Chicory turn and follow the sun - and a German legend tells that Chicory is a transformed virgin, who was left by her boyfriend. She is now standing in the roadside looking for her lover, turning her head in order to look for him. The plant's German name wegwarte means 'she who waits by the road.' Chicory was believed to be able to open locked doors, according to European folklore.Literature: The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue flower. The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, memalvae" ("As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance")Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the "chicoree", which the French cultivate as a pot herb.
Fodder: Chicory is well known for its toxicity to internal parasites. Studies indicate that ingestion of chicory by farm animals results in reduction of worm burdens,which has prompted its widespread use as a forage supplement. Research results from 2005 also showed that the taste and smell of boar disappears in the slaughtered pigs, if they had chicory in their fodder before slaughtering.
Source: Annemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001
Use the root or the flowers, fresh or dried. Pour with neutral snaps and let it draw for some weeks. Filter and thin according to taste.
photo ⓒ Gl. Rye August 2007: grethe bachmann