Monday, July 27, 2009

Chicory: more than a weed

Chicory is a hardy perennial with a long, fleshy taproot, a rosette of leaves, and a branched flower stalk topped with pale blue flowers. It can be grown from seed in the garden, but there is enough of it around our place growing wild that I have yet to bother putting it in the garden.

Though considered a weed by most, the plant has many uses. Chicory was cultivated in Egypt 5000 years ago and is mentioned in the oldest complete herbal written by the Greek physician Dioscorides. In the US, it served as cattle and sheep fodder and was added to salads and medications.

The leaves can be used fresh in salads or cooked like spinach. If you plant the roots in a dark area you can grow tender pale leaves, often called Belgian endive.
The roots can be collected in the fall, dried and ground and used as caffeine free coffee substitute. Though I haven’t tried this, I intend to this fall. If it tastes good and is easy enough to do, I may make a permanent bed of chicory in the garden.

Though the flower petals are edible, be warned, the pollen of composite flowers is highly allergenic and may cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Sufferers of asthma, ragweed, and hay fever should not consume composite flowers, and may have extreme allergies to ingesting any flowers at all.

Although I might sprinkle a few pedals over a salad to add some color, I mainly use these beautiful blue flowers to press for later use in hand made cards or framed the dried flowers to give as gifts.

Chicory can be also be used as a dye to furnish orange or blue colors in wool.

Though chicory is said to have medicinal uses, I hate to recommend a medicinal use that I am not sure is tried, true or healthy. If you consult a reputable source for directions and information, I am sure you’ll find many uses of this weed-herb-plant for teas and antiseptic rubs.