Today’s featured weed is chicory, Chicorium intybus.
Chicory is also known as Blue Sailor, Ragged Sailor, Coffeeweed, Cornflower, Succory, Wild Succory, Garden Endive, Wild Chicory, and Blue Dandelion.
Chicory is a perennial plant that has a basal rosette with long, toothed leaves similar to a dandelion (thus the name “blue dandelion”). When it flowers, it shoots up a long stem with multiple blossoms that open one at a time and last only one day. (See “Wildflowers of Wisconsin” for more detailed identification information.) Around here, they grow in large clumps and are very common along country roads, combining with birdsfoot trefoil to paint the countryside with bold swaths of blue and yellow. According to WeedAlert.com, Chicory is found throughout the United States, except in Florida.
The flowers don’t smell like much. My great niece and I went out to smell them this morning, and she said, “It smells like barnyard”. Yes, perhaps a bit, but the odor is faint. You probably don’t want to let these go to seed in large numbers in areas where you frequent. They produce hooked seeds that latch onto clothing, somewhat like burdock burrs, but these seeds are oblong, flat and about 1/4 inch long. I once let a large patch of them go to seed on our rock wall at our old place (the flowers were so beautiful!), and what a mess that was.
The plant is non-native to North America. It was brought over by European settlers to be used as a coffee substitute. The roots are dried, roasted and ground, and then brewed like coffee. I good family friend who recently passed away, Mike Jacisin, used to be a regular chicory “coffee” consumer. Mike was one of my early wildcrafting inspirations. Chicory leaves are also edible and rich in nutrients, like dandelion leaves, but very bitter. Not surprisingly, chicory does provide a nectar source for bees, but it produces a yellow, bitter honey. Chicory can also be used as a forage crop, and is very high in vitamins and minerals.
How to Make Chicory Coffee
Hoodoo Hill provides directions for making chicory coffee. (I haven’t yet tried this, maybe this fall.)
Harvest roots (preferably in fall when they are at their largest).
Rinse off excess dirt and scrub thoroughly
Chop into roughly 1/2 – 1 inch pieces
Toast in the oven at 350ºF 1 hour, or until dark brown, brittle and aromatic, stirring occasionally.
Grind in a spice grinder or blender and use like regular coffee, approximately 1½ tsp per cup of water.
Medicinal Uses of Chicory
Gardens Ablaze gives the following directions for medicinal use of chicory. Please visit their site for instructions on how to make chicory tea and herbal capsules.
Chicory teas taken internally are believed to be effective in treating jaundice and liver problems. Additionally, as with many other herbs, a tea made from roots or leaves appears to be useful for those with digestive problems.
Save a little tea and try dipping a cotton ball into it for a refreshing and soothing eye wash. You can also add a spoonful or two of honey to thicken and use as syrup for a mild laxative for kids. For long-term use, try drying and pulverizing Chicory leaves into a powder for use in capsule form. Please see How to Make Herbal Capsules for more information.
For external use, bruise fresh Chicory leaves and apply to areas affected by gout, skin eruptions, swellings, skin inflammations, and rheumatism.
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