Chicory is a plant that has grown in Europe for over 300 years. It is a relatively new crop in the United States growing in Florida and California, as well as, parts of the upper Midwest. Chicory’s leaves while bitter, are used as part of a salad or cooked as greens. The chicory root contains Inulin, a carbohydrate that is used in making fructose and a prebiotic that nourishes the good bacteria in the digestive system. The roasted, ground roots of some Chicory varieties are used as a coffee substitute and as an “extender” to some coffees to add aroma and body.
Roasted chicory root is used as an additive in coffee, and the plant has been cultivated in large commercial plantations in Europe for many years to meet the demands of the beverage industry. The roasted chicory root is sometimes used as a coffee substitute as well aside from its use as an additive in coffee. The leaves of the chicory plant are also in demand in markets around the world; the leaves are used in the preparation of salads and eaten raw as greens. One result of active cultivation of the chicory is the existence of many cultivated varieties of the plant. These different varieties of the chicory differ from one another mainly in the size and the texture of the leaves and the roots.
What to look for:
Chicory is indigenous to Europe and originally grew only on that continent. Today, the chicory is also found in parts of North Africa and Western Asian countries. The preferred site of the chicory is along foot paths and on roadsides, on river banks, and along dry fields or fallow land. Chicory roots are dug up and collected during the fall or in the spring.
While the chicory plant is a hardy plant, it grows best in sites with good exposure to sunlight. The chicory grows well in most moderately fertile and well drained soils that can retain some moisture. The pH range that is tolerated by the chicory is from an acidic 4.5 to an alkaline 8.3. In the wild, the chicory grows well on any type of soil; however, the plant may be more demanding when cultivated.
How Mother Nature loves it:
The plant also requires a well distributed rainfall pattern to grow well – harsh tropical rains can destroy crops. The soil must also have good drainage or alternately, be given some irrigation in drier sites. Once sown in a suitable site, the chicory gives off deep roots in a relatively short period of time. Chicory cannot be grown on soils that are too wet for beans and small grains – soils that are not suitable for these plants will also not be suitable to grow the chicory. Proper root growth can be ensured by the application of lime or marl to acidic soils, this mineral addition will neutralize the acidity. The plant also grows best in areas with an annual rainfall range of 30 to 400 cm and an annual mean bio-temperature of 6° to 27°C. The leaves of the chicory can be used to prepare a delicious winter salad. In Europe, the main reason for the cultivation of the chicory is to get the edible leaves and for the roots – dried, roasted and powdered chicory root is made into a coffee substitute. Chicory comes in many named varieties – each variety has particular characteristics.
How to Enjoy it:
Remedies made from the chicory are a very effective and mild bitter tonic to alleviate problems affecting the digestive tract or the liver. In terms of therapeutic value, the chicory root remedy has a similar action to that made from the root of the dandelion herb – botanical name Taraxacum officinale. The chicory herbal remedy boosts the functioning of the stomach and the liver, while cleansing and detoxifying the urinary tract at the same time. In herbal therapy, the remedies made from the chicory are used to treat various rheumatic complaints and disorders such as gout. The chicory also acts as a mild laxative herb, and is especially suited for treated children affected by constipation and other digestive disorders. Digestion is also aided by the infusion made from the leaves and flowers of the chicory.
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