Chicory is a somewhat woody, perennial herb. Some varieties can be cultivated as salad greens or grown for their roots – which may be baked and ground as a coffee substitute or additive. In fact, during the Civil War, chicory was adopted as a coffee substitute by the Confederate Army. Chicory can also be grown as livestock food. It lives wild along the roadside of many parts of Europe and has become naturalized across America and in parts of Australia and New Zealand.
Chicory was been cultivated by ancient Egyptians and was raised by medieval monks before coffee was introduced to Europe. Once coffee was introduced, the Dutch used chicory as a lively flavoring in it. In addition, a common meal in Rome, puntarelle, is made of chicory sprouts.
The chicory flower has been seen as a symbol of inspiration. It also stands for love, desire, and a striving for the unreachable. Also, according to European folklore, it was believed to open locked doors.
Some other common names for chicory are blue sailors, succory, coffeeweed and sometimes cornflower – though this name is more commonly applied to Centaurea Cyanus.
When flowering, chicory had a grooved, tough, stem that is somewhat hairy and grows from ten to forty inches tall. The blossoms are from ¾-inch to 1½ inches wide and are usually bright blue in color, although rarely they can be pink or white. The heads grow in two rows of rosette-like bracts; the inner row is long and more erect, while the outer one is shorter and spreading. Chicory flowers from July to October.
Wild leaf chicory tends to be bitter. This bitterness is appreciated in the cuisines of Greece and Turkey and some regions of Italy. Cooking the leaves and then discarding the cooking water can reduce this bitterness. You can then sauté it with garlic and other ingredients of choice to serve with your favorite pasta or alongside meat dishes.
Cultivated leaf chicory is primarily eaten raw as salad greens. These greens are divided into three types, but they have many varieties:
- Radicchio (or red endive/red chicory) has variegated red or red-green leaves. It has a spicy-bitter taste, which mellows when the leaves are grilled or roasted. It can be added to salads to add color and a zest.
- Sugarloaf looks similar to cos lettuce with its tightly packed leaves.
- Belgian endive (also called French endive or witloof by the Dutch has a small, cream-colored head with bitter leaves. It is grown indoors without sunlight or completely underground to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up. In stores you may find it wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light, thus preserving its pale color and delicate flavor. The leaves are stuffed and baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a cream or milk sauce. The hard inner stem at the base of the head should be removed prior to cooking to prevent bitterness. They can also be eaten raw.
Root chicory has been grown in Europe as a coffee substitute for hundreds of years. The roots are baked, ground, and brewed just as you would coffee beans. It has been used as a coffee additive in many parts of India, the Mediterranean region (where it originated), parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the southern United States – particularly New Orleans. In fact, you may have seen it on the shelves of your local grocery or even in your grandparents’ cupboards in a jar labeled “Postum.”
Some brewers have used roasted chicory to add depth and flavor to their stout malt liquors. Others have added it to strong Belgian-style ales to compliment the hops.
In the early 70s root chicory was found to contain 20 percent inulin, a prebiotic that is also found in Jerusalem artichokes and the Dahlia family. It has been used by the food industry as a sugar-free sweetener and as an additive to yogurt and other foods to help feed the good bacterium that live throughout our digestive tracts. As a sweetening agent, it can be converted to fructose and glucose through a process called hydrolysis. Inulin is also becoming a popular food additive as a source of “soluble fiber.”
Root chicory contains volatile oils similar to those in tansy and is likewise useful in elimination of intestinal worms in people and animals from pets to livestock. These oils are found in all parts of the plant, with the majority found in the roots. This has prompted the use of root chicory as a source of organic livestock feed to supplement traditional food sources. Only a few major companies are researching the development and production of chicory varieties, most of which are in New Zealand.
Chicory flowers have long been used in Germany (and natural healing books) as a tonic for gallstones, gastroenteritis, sinus problems, cuts, and bruises. Its inulin can aid in weight loss, constipation, improving bowel function, and general health. Some studies on rats showed it can increased calcium absorption and bone mineral density.
- Puna (Grasslands Puna is a popular forage variety developed in New Zealand. It adapts well to different climates from Canada to New Mexico to Florida. It is resistant to bolting and has high nutrient levels in its spring leaves. It is also highly resistant to grazing.
- Forage Feast is a French variety used for wildlife areas and human consumption. It is very cold hardy and is lower in tannins than other forage varieties.
- Choice is bred for high winter and early spring growth activity. It has lower levels of lactucin and lactone, which have been said to taint milk. It has been used for wildlife foraging.
- Oasis is bred for its increased lactone levels and for its higher resistance to fungal diseases.
- Puna II is more winter active than most varieties. This has led to longevity.
- Grouse is a New Zealand variety used as a companion plant to other forage varieties. Is prone to early flowering with higher crowns, so is susceptible to over-grazing.
- Six Point is a U.S. variety very similar to Puna.
©2012 Off the Grid News