Chicory is a Useful Plant

by AngelaJohnson

Chicory is also called succory or blue sailors. It's a scraggly plant with blue flower heads, growing up to four feet tall. It grows wild along roadsides and in fields.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a member of the sunflower family. The plant is native to Europe, but now also grows in North America and Australia.

Chicory root can be brewed as a tea and often used as a coffee substitute or coffee and chicory blend. The roasted root smells like coffee, but chicory has no caffeine. Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to stouts and ales.

The plant leaves can be used like salad or cooked like spinach. Chicory grown commercially is cultivated and not as bitter as wild chicory (called common chicory). But if you gather the smaller leaves for salad and cook the greens in a couple of batches of water, fresh chicory will taste better.

Chicory is also valuable to insect and animal life.

I took all the photographs of chicory for this article. The photos were taken in east Tennessee, but I've seen chicory in other U.S. states, too. ~~ Burntchestnut (Angela Johnson)

About the Common Chicory Plant

chicory growing in fieldSome people call chicory a weed, although it's actually an herb.  Chicory often grows along roadsides and in fields.  I've seen it growing at the edges of lawns and along street curbs, too.  When it's mowed, the flowers bloom low to the ground and it's quite attractive.  Chicory grows best in full sun and blooms from June to October.

Chicory has a long taproot like a dandelion, which makes it draught resistant.   At the bottom of the plant, the leaves close to the ground look similar to dandelions.  As the plant grows taller, the leaves growing on the stem get smaller.  Only a few flowers open at a time on each plant and each bloom lasts for only one morning (they close up by noon). 

 I love driving through the country and seeing patches of chicory in bloom.


Close up of Chicory Bloom

Close up of Chicory Bloom
Close up of Chicory Bloom

Chicory Leaves and Roots are Edible

chicory growing wildYou can eat common chicory leaves. Pick young leaves in March, and again in November when new leaves emerge (older leaves taste bitter).

Add the young leaves raw to salads, or cook them the same way you cook other raw greens. If you have picked some older leaves, boil them in 1 or more changes of water to remove the bitterness.

Chicory leaves are nutritious, containing vitamins A, B complex, K, E, and C. They also contain potassium, zinc, calcium, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Chicory Roots:

Chicory roots are beige colored and gnarled, usually growing longer than a carrot. The young roots can be boiled like parsnips. 

The roots can be ground and roasted to make a coffee and chicory blend. Chicory roots have no caffeine and can also be drunk pure, but it won’t taste just like coffee.

To use the roots, scrub them, chop into small pieces, and toast them in a 350 degree fahrenheit oven for one hour, stirring several times. The roots will darken, becoming brittle and fragrant. After they’re cooled, grind in a spice or coffee grinder.

Chicory is also used as a cooking spice; it contains inulin (not insulin), a compound used to flavor processed foods and beverages.


Photo by author

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Chicory for Medicinal Use

chicory bloomsChicory is used for an upset stomach, loss of appetite, a tonic to increase urine production, to protect the liver, gallbladder disorders, constipation, cancer, and rapid heartbeat.

Simmer chicory root it in a covered saucepan for 10 to 20 minutes. Strain out the root slices and drink the liquid hot.

A strong tea made of the boiled roots, leaves, and flowers is supposed to be a good wash for skin irritations, including athlete’s foot.

You can apply a compress of the boiled leaves and flowers, wrapped in a clean cotton cloth or cheesecloth, to swellings, boils, and other skin problems.

Of course, you'll want to do your own research on chicory's medicinal uses.  I haven't found any scientific proof that any of this works, but herbs and folk medicine often do bring results.


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Animals Like Chicory

black butterfly on chicoryThe chicory flower attracts bees and butterflies, and rabbits and other game animals eat the plant.  Chicory is high in fiber and easily converts to sugar, making it suitable for livestock feed.

Chicory doesn't dry well for hay in the United States, but it's used as fresh food for grazing cattle, sheep and horses.

A most important feature of chicory is that it reduces intestinal worms.  

Chicory can be grown as a forage crop' use about 5 pounds of seed per acre. It should be planted toward the last of May or first of June. Chicory can be cut in the fall the first year, and in later years if the crop is clean of other weeds, can be mown 3 or 4 times a year. 

Even if you don't have livestock, if you have an empty plot of land, consider planting chicory.  I've seen a whole field of chicory growing and it's just beautiful.  And you'll be amazed at all the butterflies and bees on the flowers.

Updated: 03/16/2015, AngelaJohnson
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mihgasper on 12/17/2015

Only few decades ago a coffee substitute made of chicory was still a regular on the shelves in our markets and now only oldest people know this humble yet very useful plant. It's good to have this article, chicory deserves it.

AngelaJohnson on 03/18/2015

frankbeswick and whitemoss - I think you'll be happy with chicory. I took dozens of photographs, including butterflies In Tennessee, where these photos were taken, only a black butterfly was attracted to the bloom (along with bees). It could have been the most popular butterfly in the area because these butterflies were on many other flowers as well.

Depending on when I visit my sister next, I'd like to try eating some of the greens and roast the roots.

frankbeswick on 03/17/2015

Great article. I have been seeking to develop my range of crops, and you have given me an idea.

whitemoss on 03/17/2015

Now here is something that I don't already grow that I like the look of!

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