Walking around my town, I noticed these beautiful little purplish blue flowers. I asked my mother-in-law and she said “oh that’s Chicory, we have it in our own front yard”. As we continued our walk I started taking pictures, looking up different ways to use this, and what it’s all about.
Let’s start with a bit of trivia on this beautiful plant. It comes from the dandelion family and is sometimes called the “blue dandelion”. The formal name is cichorium intybus. Chicory is extremely versatile and found practically everywhere in my town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania. You can eat the flower, leaves, and root! From research I have found that this is actually considered a “weed” and is often overlooked. Chicory is also very high in protein. As well as being perennial plant. You can use almost the entire plant. They are the most flavorful in the spring and autumn. In the summer heat they can become rather bitter and unappetizing. Chicory is also a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C.
Even though this specific plant is fairly easy to find; there is debate on where to harvest these plants. Chicory can be found on the side of the highway just as easily as on a country road. When you see these beautiful little plants on the side of the highway; keep in mind they do soak up a lot of toxins from the cars and road treatments. It is best to get chicory from your own backyard or the side of a lesser used road. Harvesting chicory from somewhere other than the highway can be much healthier. Please keep in mind the chicory found on state roads and highways does get sprayed with chemicals as well. These plants are also fairly small. If you plan to harvest you might want to plan for a longer day outside. A small shovel or trowel will help you with retrieving the roots with as little damage to them as possible. When harvesting something so small, you want to salvage and use all you can find.
One of the most amazing uses I found was for holistic purposes. The roots can be boiled and eaten with butter. They can be used as a stomach, heart, digestive, and liver tonic. It also works as a diuretic and an anti-inflammatory agent. For my household, this is very helpful. I found out through conversation that my father-in-law actually uses this to assist with his liver health. The reason this plant is so helpful is because scientists have found inulin, fructose, choline, resin, chicoric acid, esculetin, esculin, cichoriin, umbelliferone, and scopoletin I’m chicory. Honestly, the fancy names does mean much to me but they are the facts.
Chicory leaves can be cooked down and sautéed. One of the best ways to do this is to go for a walk and collect about a pound of chicory leaves. You want to pick them while they are still young to get the best flavor from them. Once you get them home rinse them very well under cool water and cut in half. Cook in unsalted boiled water until tender but not mushy. Make sure you drain them very well. In a medium sauce pan add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ cloves of garlic, and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. If you choose to add something such as red pepper flakes (to add some spice) do this at this time as well. Once everything is in the pan, add the chicory. Toss those beautiful leaves in this mix on a medium heat for about 2 minutes. When you remove this dish from the heat serve immediately for the best results. If you leave it sit you will get a small pool of oil that is not very appetizing to look at.
Chicory roots can be baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute. They provide a somewhat woody flavor. Once this is brewed it is best with a little cream and sugar. Personally, I do not like a greasy or oily coffee. Chicory does create a slight oil. If you are picky like me, this might not be the best use for you.
Here is a copy of the recipe previously mentioned. I did get this recipe from my father-in-law after he has tried many and adjusted it to his own likings.
Approximately 1 pound of chicory leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon of salt
red pepper flakes or other spices (this is added to taste specific to your liking)
Wash leaves in cool water and cut in half.
Boil in unsalted water until tender but not mushy.
In a small to medium frying pan; add garlic and olive oil on a medium heat. Allow this to cook for a couple seconds to ensure the flavors will reach the whole dish.
*note* if adding other spices do so at step 3.
Add the Chicory and salt. Toss gently and cook for approximately 2 minutes.
The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2017, Article ID 7343928