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Helpful Herbs: Chicory

With a delicate flower and a valuable root, Chicory is a very helpful member of the Dandelion family. This little plant is easy to grow and its roots are full of healing properties. Not to be confused with its close cousin Endive, Chicory is a herb to add to your garden and kitchen.

Chicory grows well from seed and prefers rich, fertile, and well drained soil. It will grow best in full sun, and can be planted in spring and early summer for an autumn yield. It can also be grown in a container garden, but if you're planning to harvest the root make sure your container is quite deep.

Chicory greens are harvested and used fresh. Chicory is very closely related to Radicchio and Belgian Endive, but has paler leaves and the flavor of the leaves is not as sharp as Radicchio. While the fresh greens of Chicory make a tasty addition to salads or a sauteed dish, it is the roots that are most prized.

After about a hundred days of growing, Chicory root will be ready to harvest. The whole plant can be uprooted, and the greens cut away for storing. After thoroughly cleaning the roots, they can be cut into small pieces or dried whole. Chicory root can be dried by leaving them in a cool, dry place for a few weeks or the process can be expedited by using an oven for about ninety minutes at 350 degrees.

The Chicory root is most well known as a coffee substitute. Baked and ground, the roots can be added to coffee blends or used instead of coffee beans. It has a dark, bitter flavor that is very reminiscent of coffee, but contains no caffeine. Chicory root is also full of inulin fiber, so adding it to smoothies or sprinkling the root over a yogurt can help your body get the fiber it needs in a tasty snack.

Chicory is most often included in the diet because of its many medicinal benefits. The roots of Chicory are remarkably healthy and help to build up antioxidants, improve digestive health, and can help heal liver damage. With elements of nearly all of the essential vitamins, Chicory can help you kick the common cold and contains probiotics that are rarely found in other foods. Researchers are currently testing Chicory to see how it battles various cancers and heart disease. Chicory root also has certain sedative properties and can help relax you and soothe anxiety.

Chicory has been used for healing and as a coffee substitute for centuries. The French believed that some Chicory in a coffee blend would help to soothe the drink. Europeans would also blanch the root and enjoy it as part of a meal, or boil it and eat it as one would parsnips. Also called wild bachelor's buttons, blue daisy, horseweed ragged sailors, coffeeweed and cornflower, Chicory root was used by Native Americans as a calming tea and salve for wounds.

In 1766 when Frederick the Great banned coffee in Prussia, Chicory root's quality as a coffee alternative was prized. Chicory root in coffee mixes or instead of coffee beans was used when regular coffee beans were scarce in the Southern States during the American Civil War, Monks would drink Chicory root coffee in the Middle Ages, and the root was used to enhance coffee in Napoleonic France.

Chicory, with it's pretty blue flowers and helpful roots, is a wonderful plant to add to the garden. You may even find that you don't need to buy coffee anymore if you're drying the roots and enjoying their benefits!


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