CHICORY - THE ROOT FOR COFFEE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF CHICORY
Chicory and endive are sometimes confused, perhaps because they are the only two members of the genus Cichorium. Endive is cultivated and resembles a tight-leaved pale green torpedo shaped lettuce whereas chicory looks like a tall dandelion, but with blue flowers not yellow, and its leaves grow at right-angles from the stem. It has similar properties to the dandelion too, but can grow up to 2 feet tall. In
the endive is called chicory too, while chicory, the herb is also called Succory which further adds to the confusion. Chicory is native to Britain Europe, Scandinavia, North Africa and western Asia. It is cultivated for the root, but grows wild too. It’s a member of the Asteraceae or daisy family of plants.
For centuries chicory has been used either as a substitute for coffee or as an adulterant to it. There was an outcry when the British government demanded that manufacturers stopped putting chicory root in coffee back in the 18th century, although the practice has long gone out of fashion in
. However it is still going strong in Britain and can be found in some European coffees too. it is thought to counteract caffeine the stimulant in coffee. New Orleans
Apart from being roasted and ground to make coffee or to add to it, you can cook the roots as you would parsnips, although they are more bitter than these traditional root vegetables. You can boil them too and add them to sauces and gravies to give these a deep rich colour. The Romans used to add chicory leaves to salads, and use the roots as a vegetable.
Chicory leaves, young tender ones, picked before the flowers appear in July are good raw in salads and the flowers can be used too as they are edible, although with a slightly bitter taste.
The roots contain inulin and were thought to be good for diabetics, until it was discovered that inulin, a starch, is not retained in the body but tends to pass straight through. However a sweetener is now made from inulin and this may be used safely by diabetics.
The leaves contain dietary fibre, so make a good mild laxative and prevent constipation and therefore piles, as well as having vitamins A, B-complex thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) as well as vitamin C. They are rich in the mineral calcium and also contain iron. The plant also contains bioflavonoids such as quercetin and sesquiterpenes.
It is best to use roots that are less than two years old and young leaves. They can both be dried after harvesting for later use, and it is best to harvest the roots in the autumn when they have finished flowering, so October would be a good time, in most countries. A decoction of the roots is said to be good to reduce liver enlargement, and it has been found that extracts of chicory have liver-protective properties. Traditionally the roots have been used for rheumatism while the leaves have diuretic properties. A decoction of the whole plant used to be given to people with gravel or stones in their internal organs.
The latex in chicory stems was used to get rid of warts.
A decoction can be made with 1 ounce of the fresh, cleaned root, to 1 pint of water, boiled down to ¾ pint for liver problems and for the inflammation caused by gout and rheumatism.
A poultice of the bruised leaves can be applied to reduce swellings and inflammation although for swellings, mallow leaves are probably best. An infusion of the root, 1 ounce of root to 1 pint of boiling water, poured over the chopped root and left to stand for 15 minutes can be applied to eruptions on the skin and to soothe irritation. Distilled flower water was used to reduce eye irritation and in Jacobean times the flowers were used to make a sweet dish along with the flowers of violets, called “Violet plates.”
The seeds contain a soothing oil which is good for the skin and it is the seeds which have been found to have the most potent antioxidant properties in the plant. The seeds have proved to be liver-protective.
The polyphenolic acids in the plant have antiviral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, immuno-stimulating and anti-oxidant properties and research has shown that the extracts of the plant could possibly be used to combat the HIV virus. It is also thought that extracts of this chicory plant could help with heart irregularities, although much more research is needed before scientists can prove that the extracts from the plant work on people.