Chicory is such a common herb, and so unassuming, that it is easy to take for granted. In its wild form, it is somewhat like a scruffy looking blue Dandelion. It is a very useful herb, but too often regarded as just a simple bitter. These days, most of use likely use the cultivated versions of Chicory as a vegetable, or perhaps a beverage, than we do the wild plant as a medicinal herb. Yet, like the ubiquitous Dandelion, Chicory is not native to North America. It was brought here by European immigrants to be grown as a medicinal herb and a vegetable. It is high time we explore this plant that was so valued by our ancestors.
Chicory, a “weed” native to Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, has been used nearly as far back as the recorded history of those regions can tell us. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all valued the plant. Horace wrote, “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malve”, or “As for me, olives Chicory and mallows provide sustenance.” From that meager diet… especially in a era of great gastronomic opulence, I would assume that Horace not only had aesthetic tastes, but likely a weak stomach. That said, with the addition of some fried chicken or pork chops, his diet was not much different than the southern, Sunday dinners immensely enjoyed in my family - substitute home made pickles, relish or chutney for the olives, collard greens for the chicory and okra as the mallow. Perhaps the bard was onto something?
As for medicinal use, before the great Roman poets and philosophers waxed eloquently over Chicory, the Greek physicians recognized both its culinary and value. Dioscorides wrote of Chicory under the name “Seris”:
Seris has two types — wild and cultivated, of which the wild is called pickris or cichorum, but the other kind, that of the garden, is broader-leaved and more pleasant in the mouth. Of the two kinds, one is more similar to lettuce and is broad leaved; the other is narrow-leaved and bitter. Both are astringent, cooling and good for the stomach. Boiled and taken with vinegar they stop discharges of the bowels, and the wild (especially) are best for the stomach, for when eaten they comfort a disturbed and burning stomach. Applied with polenta (or by themselves) they are good for heart conditions. They help gout and inflammation of the eyes. The herb and root are rubbed on to help those who are touched by a scorpion, and with polenta they heal erysipela [streptococcal skin infection]. The juice from them with cerussa [white lead ore] and vinegar is good rubbed on those who need cooling. It is also called picris, the Egyptians call it agon, and the Romans, intybus agrestis.
There is scant mention of Chicory in the herbals of the middle ages, but it should be noticed that the Monastic Medicine of that era largely used Dioscoredes’ de Materia Medica as its manual. Saint Hildegard von Bingen may have referenced Chicory in her classic work, Physica, written around 1100 AD. Saint Hildegard recommended an herb she called “Sunnewirbel”, which was likely an old German folk name for Chicory, as the plant she described seems to be the same. She recommended this herb for digestive problems, combined with Burdock - combinations of Chicory, Dandelion and Burdock are almost universally common herbal formulas for digestive issues, liver and skin health.
That Chicory continued into the tradition of German Folk Medicine is evidenced by the writings of Fr, Kneipp, Brother Aloysius and Fr. Kunzel.
Succory, Wild (Chicorium intybus)
This plant, called in German Wegwart (literally waiting on the way) will be found by the roadside waiting patiently to be plucked for the household pharmacy. It is also called turnsole, be cause it ever turns its leaves toward the sun. The succory has an untidy and rough appearance, like an unkempt child among its neater morades. Its blue flower alone, somewhat paler than cornflower, raises its position and inspired a certain amount fo respect. Appearances are often deceitful, and so it is with the wild succory, which under its rough exterior, bears a golden heart.
Tea of succory leaves dissolves conglutinations of the stomach, and secretes gall and bile. It purifies liver, kidneys and milt, and secretes unhealthy matter through the urine. The dose is two cupfuls daily, taken int he morning and evening during three or four days.
Pains and inflammation of the stomach may be relieved by compresses dipped in a hot infusion of succory leaves and flowers, renewed two or three times
Chicory leaves may be expressed in spirits, which will serve to rub consumptive or dwindling limbs two to three times daily.
As leaves and blossoms, so also the roots may be employed for the same purposes. These are easiest dug up in rainy weather
Brother Aloysius wrote:
Wild Chicory grows abundantly on high ground, dykes and along roadside verges; it is an herbaceous, biennial plant, grey-green in color. The leaves are oblong, deeply cut, the radical leaves are large. The pale blue flowers bear a great resemblance to corn flower, but are larger. THe long, yellowish root, like the leaves, contains bitter sap. Leaves and roots can be used medicinally; the former are gathered in June, the roots in September. The leaf infusion consists of ¼ to ½ cup per 2 cups boiling water; 2 cups should be taken daily. The root decoction contains ⅓ to ½ cup per 2 cups water; this should be reduced by half, and 1 tablespoon should be taken every 2 hours. The leaf infusion is recommended for constipation, mucous stomach and excessive gall; it cleanses the liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach and promotes digestion. A tincture of the root in 75% alcohol is used externally to rub weak limbs twice a day. Take 2 cups tea made front he leaf decoction as an excellent remedy for a mucous stomach, for it encourages digestion and puts the stomach in order again. The decoction of the roots, leaves and stems is highly recommended for pneumonia and chest catarrh.
The chicory (cichorium intybus) The chicory was already known as a medicinal plant in ancient times. A coffee drink was made from the root of the grafted chicory. So it is by no means a modern factory product, but a herb and a luxury product that has been known for centuries, which was also used to keep the body healthy. Not only the roots but also the leaves of the grafted chicory are used. Through the roasting process, the root provides the well-known luxury food that we know under the name "chicory" and that has developed into an excellent coffee additive. Chicory owes its wide distribution mainly to its health-promoting properties. In particular, it stimulates the appetite and has a beneficial effect on digestion.
Chicory in the British tradition is best described by Mrs. Grieves:
---History---It has been suggested that the name Succory came from the Latin succurrere (to run under), because of the depth to which the root penetrates. It may, however be a corruption of Chicory, or Ctchorium, a word of Egyptian origin, which in various forms is the name of the plant in practically every European language. The Arabian physicians called it 'Chicourey.' Intybus, the specific name of the Chicory, is a modification of another Eastern name for the plant - Hendibeh. The Endive, an allied but foreign species (a native of southern Asia and northern provinces of China) derives both its common and specific names from the same word. The Endive and the Succory are the only two species in the genus Cichorium. There is little doubt that the Cichorium mentioned by Theophrastus as in use amongst the ancients was the wild Chicory, since the names by which the wild plant is known in all the languages of modern Europe are merely corruptions of the original Greek word, while there are different names in the different countries for the Garden Endive.
Succory was known to the Romans and eaten by them as a vegetable or in salads, its use in this way being mentioned by Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny.
On the Continent, Chicory is much cultivated, not only as a salad and vegetable, but also for fodder and more especially for the sake of its root, which though woody in the wild state, under cultivation becomes large and fleshy, with a thick rind, and is employed extensively when roasted and ground, for blending with coffee.
In this country Chicory has been little grown. There was an attempt in 1788 to introduce its cultivation here as fodder, it being grown largely for that purpose in France, especially for sheep, but it would seem not to have met with success and has not been grown as a farm crop, though it furnishes abundance of good fodder at a time when green food is scarce, growing very quickly, two cuttings being possible in the first year and three in subsequent years, the produce being said to be superior on the whole to Lucerne. Although this plant, being succulent, seldom dries well for hay in this country, it seems valuable as fresh food for horses, cows and sheep: rabbits are fond of it. There has been an attempt since the war to re-introduce the cultivation of Chicory, and it has been successfully grown at the experimental farm of the University College of North Wales at Bangor, and at Kirton, Lincolnshire, for the first time for forty years, was reported in March, 1917, to be yielding 20 tons per acre.
When grown for a forage crop, it should be sown during the last week in May, or first week in June, in drills about 15 inches apart, the plants being afterwards singled to from 6 inches to 8 inches in the row. About 5 lb. of seed will be needed for the acre. If sown too early the plant is likely to bolt. So grown, the crop of leaves can be cut in autumn to be fed to stock of all kinds, such as poultry, rabbits, cows, etc., and in following years, if the crop is kept clean, the foliage may be mown off three or four times. So grown it should of course never be allowed to seed.
On the Continent, especially in Belgium, the young and tender roots are boiled and eaten with butter like parsnips, and form a very palatable vegetable.
---Uses---The leaves are used in salads, for which they are much superior to Dandelion. They may be cut and used from young plants, but are generally blanched, as the unblanched leaves are bitter. This forced foliage is termed by the French Barbe de Capucin and forms a favourite winter salad, much eaten in France and Belgium. A particularly fine strain is known as Witloof, in Belgium, where smallholders make a great feature of this crop and excel in its cultivation. The young blanched heads also form a good vegetable for cooking, similar to Sea Kale.
Enormous quantities of the plant are cultivated on the Continent, to supply the grocer with the ground Chicory which forms an ingredient or adulteration to coffee. In Belgium, Chicory is sometimes even used as a drink without admixture of coffee. For this purpose, the thick cultivated root is sliced kiln-dried, roasted and then ground. It differs from coffee in the absence of volatile oil, rich aromatic flavour, caffeine and caffeotannic acid, and in the presence of a large amount of ash, including silica. When roasted, it yields 45 to 65 per cent of soluble extractive matter. Roasted Coffee yields only 21 to 25 per cent of soluble extract, this difference affording a means of approximately determining the amount of Chicory in a mixture.
When infused, Chicory gives to coffee a bitterish taste and a dark colour. French writers say it is contra-stimulante, and serves to correct the excitation caused by the principles of coffee, and that it suits bilious subjects who suffer from habitual constipation, but is ill-adapted for persons whose vital energy soon flags, and that for lymphatic or bloodless persons its use should be avoided.
---Part Used Medicinally---The root. When dried - in the same manner as Dandelion it is brownish, with tough, loose, reticulated white layers surrounding a radiate, woody column. It often occurs in commerce crowned with remains of the stem. It is inodorous and of a mucilaginous and bitter taste.
---Constituents---A special bitter principle, not named, inulin and sugar.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Chicory has properties similar to those of Dandelion, its action being tonic, laxative and diuretic.
Having discussed the medicinal use of Chicory, I would be remiss if I did not explore its wider culinary use. While wild Chicory is a commonly foraged edible among wild food enthusiasts such as myself, the plant can be somewhat too tough and bitter for eating in a raw salad. The cultivated Chicories have larger leaves, more pleasant texture and a more approachable bitterness, acceptable to many, both raw and cooked. The two most popular vegetable forms of Chicory are Radicchio and Endive. Radicchio is the more bitter and rustic of the two varieties, having been widely cultivated and commonly grown in gardens for centuries, especially in Greece and Italy. It is very likely that the Radicchio we know today is more similar to that extolled by Horace than the wild Chicory we find in fields and roadsides. The Belgian endive is a more mild Chicory, discovered by a very fortunate accident. This vegetable is blanched, grown in darkness, the growing technique for which was discovered by chance in the 1850s, at the Botanical Garden of Brussels….. And quickly embraced as almost an international obsession by neighboring France.
The other quality most commonly extolled of Chicory is the use of its roots as a coffee substitute. Most wild food books highly recommended Chicory as a coffee substitute, along with Dandelion root. Frankly, I am not convinced. The roasted roots do make a nice hot beverage. But, in my rarely humble opinion, they are no substitute for coffee. That said, I enjoy Creole Coffee immensely! My Cajun and Creole ancestors adopted the habit of adding roasted Chicory roots to coffee either as a matter of French taste or for stretching out the treasured beans that could often be scarce the colonies, even with New Orleans being a major, international port. However, most commercial blends of Chicory and Coffee leave much to be desired. To have the best, one must buy their coffee blend from a boutique coffee roaster or you just have to make it yourself. There is only one nationally available brand of Creole style coffee that I always enjoy, and that is Community Coffee. But, it has to be made the RIGHT WAY. The RIGHT WAY to make real Creole style coffee was detailed in the classic Picayune Times Creole Cookbook of 1900….. And, sorry teetotalers and anti-fat fanatics, real Creole Coffee, to my taste, must include cream and a dash of liquor. It is that combination of dairy and either bourbon or brandy that brings out the sweetness of the Chicory. Done right, the coffee has a bitter-sweet, chocolate and Amaretto flavor and scent. The liquor opens up the flavors and aromas, and the cream translates them to the taste buds. Lacking those additions, it is merely very dark roasted, bitter, strong coffee.
Those interested only in medicinal herbalism may stop reading here, but I am going to include the full entry below. I am very proud of the way in which my ancestors and their related culture made an art of even simple things… and art mostly lost in the modern pace of life:
A good cup of Creole Coffee. Is there anything in the whole range of food substances to be compared with it? And is there any city in the world where coffee is so delightfully concocted as in New Orleans? Travelers the world over unite in praise of Creole Coffee, “Cafe a la Creole," as they are fond of putting it. The Creole cuisinieres succeed far beyond even the famous chefs of France in discovering the secret of good coffee-making, and they have never yielded the palm of victory. There is no place in the world in which the use of coffee is more general than in the old Creole city of New Orleans, where, from the famous French Market, with its world-renowned coffee stands, to the olden homes on the Bayou St. John, from Lake Pontchartrain to the verge of Southport, the cup. of "Cafe Noir," or -"Cafe au Lait," at morning, at noon and at night, has become a necessary and delightful part of the life of the people, and the wonder and the joy of visitors.
The morning cup of Cafe Noir is an integral part of the life of a Creole household. The Creoles hold as a physiological fact that this custom contributes to longevity, and point, day after day, to examples of old men and women of fourscore, and over, who attest to the powerful aid they have received through life from a good, fragrant cup of coffee In the early morning. The ancient resi- dents hold, too, that, after a hearty meal, a cup of "Cafe Noir," or black coffee, will relieve the sense of oppression so apt to be experienced, and enables the stomach to perform Its functions with greater facility. Cafe Noir is known, too, as one of the best preventives of infectious diseases, and the ancient Creole physicians never used any other deodorizer than passing a chafing dish with burning grains of coffee through the room. As an antidote for poison the uses of coffee are too well known to be dilated upon.
Coffee is also the greatest brain food and stimulant known. Men of science, poets and scholars and journalists, have testified to its beneficial effects. Coffee supported the old age of Voltaire, and enabled Fontenelle to reach his one hundredth birthday. Charles Gayarre, the illustrious Louisiana historian, at the advanced age of eighty, paid tribute to the Creole cup of "Cafe Noir." Among advanced scientists it is rapidly taking the place of digitalis in the treatment of certain cardiac affections, and the basis of black, coffee, "cafffeine," enters largely into medicinal compositions. Coffee is now classed by physicians as an auxiliary food substance, as retarding the waste of nerve tissue and acting with peculiarly strengthening effect upon the nervous and vascular system.
How important, then, is the art of making good coffee, entering, as it does, so largely into the daily life of the American people. There is no reason why the secret should be confined to any section or city but, with a little care and attention, every household in the land may enjoy its morning or after dinner cup of coffee with as much real pleasure as the Creoles of New Orleans and the thou- sands of visitors who yearly migrate to this old Franco-Spanish city.
It is, therefore, with pardonable pride that the Picayune begins the Creole Cook Book by introducing its readers into a typical Creole kitchen where "Tante Zoe," in the early morning hour, in her quaint, guinea- blue dress and bandana "tignon," is carefully concocting the morning cup of CAFE NOIR.
And the first she will tell you, this old Creole Negresse, as she busies herself parching to a beautiful brown the morning portion of green coffee, that the secret of good coffee lies in having
The Best Ingredients and in the Proper Making.
By the best ingredients she means mose delightful coffees grown on well-watered mountain slopes, such as the famous Java and Mocha coffees. It must be of the best quality, the Mocha and Java mixed producing a. concoction of a most delightful aroma and stimulating effect. She will tell you, too, that one of the first essentials is to "Parch the Coffee Grains just Before Making the Coffee," because coffee that has been long parched and left standing loses its flavor and strength. The coffee grains should "Be Roasted to a Rich' Brown," and never allowed to scorch or burn, otherwise the flavor of the coffee is at once affected or destroyed. Good coffee should never be boiled. Bear this in mind, that the GOOD. CREOLE COOK NEVER BOILS COFFEE; but insists on drip-ping it, in a covered strainer, slowly, slowly— DRIP, DRIP, DRIP, until all the flavor is extracted.
To reach this desired end, immediately after the coffee has been roasted and allowed to cool in a covered dish, so that none of the flavor will escape, the coffee is ground — neither too fine, for that will make the coffee dreggy; nor too coarse, for that prevents the escape of the full strength of the coffee juice — but a careful medium proportion, --which will not allow the hot water pouring to run rapidly through, but which will admit the water percolating -slowly through- and through the grounds, extracting every bit of the strength ..and aroma, and falling steadily with ""a drip! drip!" into the coffee pot.
To make good coffee, the water must be, "freshly boiled," and must never, be poured upon the grounds until it has reached the good boiling point, otherwise the flavor is destroyed, and subsequent pourings of boiling-.-water can -never quite succeed .in. 'extracting- the superb strength and aroma -which distinguish the., good cup of coffee. . It. is of the .greatest-. Importance. that "The Coffee. Pot" Be Kept Perfectly Clean," and the good cook will bear in mind that absolute cleanliness is as necessary for the interior of the coffee pot as for the shining "exterior." This fact is one too commonly overlooked, and, the coffee pot requires more than, ordinary care, for the reason that the chemical action of the coffee upon the tin or agate tends to create a substance which collects and clings to every crevice and seam, and, naturally, in the course of time will affect the flavor of the coffee most peculiarly and unpleasantly. Very often the fact that the coffee tastes bitter or muddy arises from this fact. The "inside" of the coffee pot should, therefore, be washed as carefully "every day" as the outside. Having observed these conditions, proceed to make the coffee according to the following unfailing Creole Rule.
Have the water heated to a good boil. Set the coffee pot in front of the stove; never on top, as the coffee will boil, and then the taste is destroyed.
Allow one cup, or the ordinary mill, of coffee to make four cups of the liquid, ground and pu' in the strainer, being careful to keep both the strainer and the spout of the coffee-pot covered; to prevent the flavor from escaping. Pour, first, about two tablespoonfuls of the boiling water on the coffee grounds or, according to the quantity of coffee used, just sufficient to settle the grounds. Wait about five minutes, then pour a little more water, and allow it to drip slowly through, but never pour water the second time until the grounds have ceased to puff or bubble, as this- is an indication that the grounds have settled. Keep pouring slowly, at intervals, a little boiling water at a time, until the delightful aroma of the coffee. begins to escape from the closed spout of the coffee pot. If the coffee dyes the cup, it is a little too strong; but do not go far beyond this, or that coffee will be too weak. "When you have produced a rich, fragrant concoction, whose delightful aroma is filling the room, is. ,a constant and tempting invitation to taste it, serve in fine china cups, using in preference loaf sugar for sweetening. You then have a real cup of the famous Cafe Noir, so extensively used at, "morning breakfast, and as the "after dinner cup.". If the coffee appears muddy or not clear, some of the old Creoles drop a piece of charcoal. Into. the water, which settles it and at once makes it clear. Demonstrations prove that the strength remains, in the coffee grounds. A matter of economy in making coffee is to save the grounds from the meal or day before and boil these, in a half gallon of water. Settle the grounds by dropping two or three drops of cold water in and pour the water over the fresh grounds. This is a suggestion that rich and poor might heed with profit.
CAFE AU LAIT.
Proceed in the same manner as in the making of "Cafe Noir," allowing the usual Quantity of boiling water to the amount of coffee used. When made, pour the coffee into delicate china cups, allowing a half cup of coffee to each cup. Serve, at the same time, a small pitcher of very
sweet and fresh cream, allowing a half cup of cream to a half cup of coffee. The milk should always be boiled, and the cream very hot. If the cream is not fresh and sweet, it will curdle the coffee, by reason of the heat. Cafe au Lait is a great breakfast drink in New Orleans, while Cafe Noir Is more generally the early morning and the afternoon drink.
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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
Great post. I have grown chicory from seeds and eaten it as a vegetable, and gathered wild chicory and planted it in my garden for my use. It's nice to have the diversity in my yard and in my belly.