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Wild Flowers: Chicory

Updated on July 18, 2017
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Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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The fourth of July is known for fireworks. Some of the most spectacular fireworks happen along the roadsides when bright blue chicory flowers burst open. But only in the mornings. By the afternoon, the flowers have closed, not to open again until the following morning.

Chicory is native to Eurasia. It was brought to North America by the European colonists as a medicinal herb that had been in use for 5,000 years. It has adapted so well to its new environment that it is considered invasive in several states.

Medicinal Uses

The milky sap of the plants was once used to promote milk flow in nursing mothers or to lessen it if there was too much. Bruised leaves were used as a poultice to reduce swelling. Root extracts were used as laxatives and diuretics.

Once established and naturalized in this country (and other continents settled by Europeans such as Australia and New Zealand), the plants were used as forage for cattle, horses, sheep, rabbits and poultry.

Coffee

Chicory has a long history of being used as a coffee substitute or additive. Its use became common in the South during the Civil War when Union naval blockades made coffee scarce. Coffee with chicory added is now the signature drink of New Orleans.

So-called Camp Coffee, coffee and chicory, has been available in England since 1885. It gained in popularity there during the Second World War when coffee and other commonly used foods and drinks were rationed.

Growth Habit

Chicory is a perennial, hardy in zones 3 through 8. It grows like dandelions, with a long taproot and a rosette of leaves. The leaves can be eaten in salads. They are bitter like dandelions, so it is best to use young ones rather than the older larger leaves. Unlike dandelions, chicory sends up a stiff stalk 2 to 5 feet tall with leaves and flowers. Bloomtime is July through October. As previously mentioned, the flowers open in the morning and close about five hours later. This is because they are pollinated by bees which are most active in the mornings.

The roots are also edible. When boiled, they taste like parsnips. The roots are most often roasted until brittle and brown, then ground and brewed like coffee. Prepared this way, they taste like coffee but without the caffeine.

So the next time you are admiring the pretty blue chicory flowers adorning the fields, consider gathering a few plants, including the roots, to add to your morning coffee.

© 2017 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 4 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Dora, thank you for reading and commenting!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Very useful information. Thank you for sharing the facts about chicory and its benefits.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 4 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Bronwen, thanks for sharing that info. Fascinating. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      During World War II chicory was grown on Phillip Island and other places in Australia; it was used as a coffee substitute when it was almost impossible to get the real thing.

      Thanks for an interesting article.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 4 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Alicia, I agree! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think that chicory flowers are so pretty. Thanks for sharing the interesting information about the plant.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 5 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Neither did I! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 5 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That was really interesting to read. I had no idea chicory had so many benefits.