Chicory is a rather useful plant, although the layman would regard it as a weed. To quote a popular saying of Ralph Waldo Emerson; “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”. Its scientific name is Cichorium intybus. While it's now widely cultivated in the United States (found in all 50 states), it's a non-native plant. Its easy naturalization and subsequent successful proliferation are due to the resilient nature of the plant. The hardy plant is not at all selective about the soil that it grows on.
Chicory has come a long way. This non-native plant has been cultivated for thousands of years, going back as far as ancient Egypt. Even with the limited means to analyze the plant's component, it was known to contain health properties. Modern science has revealed specific inherent properties. Its leaves, flowers, and especially roots are a rich nutrient source, making a great alternative food source. It especially comes in handy in SHTH (shit-hit-the-fan) scenarios.
Distinguishing Chicory Root From Other Plants
Chicory is a hardy herbaceous plant with a deep taproot that carries a sappy white fluid. It spreads by dispersing its seeds at the onset of every Fall, then sprouts the following year. The bloom period is typically between July and somewhere in the middle of October. They can withstand extreme environmental and weather conditions and tend to grow between 2 - 5 feet fall.
The dainty and gorgeous flower found on chicory falls within the spectrum of blue to purple. Don't, however, be surprised to find a few varieties to bear white or pink flowers. Lanceolate (lance-shaped) is what best describes the leaves the way they branch off the erect stem. The spatulate (spoon-shaped) basal leaves grow to reach 25cm in length. Their colors vary between red and green.
Among all the green still regarded as weeds, Chicory is one of the easiest to identify. Perhaps, only dandelions and maybe daisies come close. Chicory generally resembles dandelions so much so that they are colloquially called "blue dandelion." And are considered cousins by botanists.
Nevertheless, the petals of chicory's flowers distinctly stand out. While dandelions are predominantly yellow, chicory never comes in a yellow shade. Chicory is hard to mistake. But if you do, as a newbie, you won't be at so much risk. Unlike many plants with toxic look-alikes chicory does not have any evil twins.
Imagine for a minute the first person who dug to find a diamond only to think it was another useless piece of rock. Now, imagine how the person would feel if they were to learn it was a precious stone.
It's the same thing with chicory; only you don't have to imagine. Chicory is mostly found growing along roadsides and wild country fields. Given their ease of spread, you've probably come across chicory somewhere and didn't give it a second look. Be sure to pay them some attention the next time you see them.
Why? There's quite a lot you can do with the plant. Chicory roots, leaves, and flowers are all beneficial to man in more ways than one. The entire plant is food in one form or another:
~Chicory Root: a Coffee Substitute
~Chicory is sometimes used as an additive. But by far, its most widely known feature is its capacity to serve as a much healthier alternative to coffee. For centuries, it has been cultivated, processed, and enjoyed as a cheap beverage. The prominent taproot is the chief ingredient.
~The process is quite straightforward. Once chicory has been cultivated, the next thing is to dig out its roots. Then wash, slice, roast, and grind them. Now, your substitute coffee is ready to be brewed. While it doesn't exactly taste like coffee, it's a good enough facsimile. What would be missing is the caffeine boost because chicory is caffeine-free. However, the similar nature between the beverages may trick your mind into thinking you’ve had your morning cup of joe in a disaster scenario where all of your coffee has been used up.
~If you're still struggling to imagine giving up coffee, consider this; In an SHTH scenario, for instance, chicory root can help to supplement the coffee supply. In the event of a winter storm where you have to give up coffee entirely because of the caffeine, chicory is the perfect alternative. A cheaper alternative we must add. After all, chicory is free; coffee is not.
~Note: Harvest chicory roots only in the early spring when they are still young. Or in the fall when its taproots are fully mature. The younger, however, the better as they get bitter with age.
~Chicory Leaves: Salads and Side Dishes
~Like the roots, the leaves are also edible. But unlike the roots, you don't have to process them. The young leaves can be eaten raw. Pluck, rinse, slice, and add to salads. Chicory leaves also make for a great cooked side dish. Like collards or spinach, these leaves can be sautéed, boiled, stir fried, and stewed.
~Note: If you are harvesting the leaves, make sure it's from a young chicory plant. Chicory leaves tend to get bitter as they mature.
~Chicory Flowers: Salads Constituent and Drinks
~Chicory plant is the perfect example of a 100 % use material. The flower is as useful as the roots and leaves. What a plant!
~The flowers are edible and are often added as extra dressing to salads and floated in some teas. And for non-emergency uses you can also freeze them inside ice to beautify your drinks, whether it's a retirement party or a baby shower.
~Note: Only harvest chicory flowers between late summer and the first few weeks of fall. This will enable you to catch the flower heads as they bloom. Additionally, be careful harvesting local chicory, as car exhaust and other pesticides could be being sprayed all over these roadside plants.
Take note that the following paragraph’s benefits aren't yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease. However, in a survival scenario, leaning on ‘old-school’ uses may not be a bad idea.
~Vitamins & Antioxidants
~Chicory plants are rich in vitamins and micro and macro minerals. The leaves contain vitamins A, B, C, E, K, and folic acid. They also contain potassium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. Many people use it as a traditional detoxifier as well as a supplement over the years.
~Chicory can boost your immune system as well as clean the liver in the process. It is something you want to consider having in your preps in survival scenarios.
~Due to its nutritious quality (high mineral content), chicory serves as an alternative food source for most livestock. It's also added to animal feed as a nutrient supplement. There have also been assertions by some livestock breeders that chicory control worms in farm animals. So, if raise your own livestock, you may want to feed it to your animals. It will come in handy as a supplement to feed and nourish your livestock in SHTH scenarios.
~Even now, some farmers cultivate chicory specially to feed their herd. You can plant or harvest it anywhere weeds grow in the United States.
~Traditionally, chicory has been reputed to contain healing properties. This is evident in how often it has been used over time as a natural herbal remedy. Chicory roots contain inulin. Approximately about 68 grams, and that’s what is responsible for its medicinal characteristics.
~Inulin is a prebiotic — a substance that helps to promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. Chicory root is one of the best food sources of inulin. Look for any commercial prebiotic supplements, and you're likely to find inulin or fiber of chicory root on the wrapper.
~As a direct result, chicory helps to enhance digestibility in humans. It may also improve the immune system, aid nutrient absorption, as well as ease inflammation. Chicory root is antibacterial, and it's been heralded as a homeopathic solution for gallbladder ailments. It can also lower blood sugar. All of these have earned it the name: the miracle herb.