You have to wonder sometimes how certain plants become villains of the landscape and are dumped into that horrifying category of vegetation, “weeds.” While not every so-called weed is beneficial to humans in some way, a large number are. There are books and books available on foraging wild edibles, and you would be surprised to see how many of those are commonly found in the nooks, crannies, and cracks of our “civilized” spaces.
Today’s featured plant, CHICORY, is a ubiquitous perennial plant on rural roadsides and even in many suburban spaces. Tall and lanky, with attractive, aster-like blue flowers, chicory can make a healthful and beautiful addition to your landscaping if you can see past the name-calling you are probably used to. Besides wild chicory, cultivated members of the chicory family include radicchio and Belgian endive. (Our profile will focus on the wild variety.)
The reason that you see chicory in so many fairly desolate places is that it is hardy and grows in a wide variety of soil types, making it one of many pioneer plant species that will move in to disturbed soil before other plants are able to thrive. This makes it a good soil builder in your garden, pulling nutrients up from deeper in the soil with its long taproot; it then returns those nutrients to the surface by dropping leaves and when it dies back. Along with soil building, chicory attracts beneficial pollinators (much as other members of the aster family do).
Chicory’s leaves and root are both edible and have traditionally been used to detoxify the liver, as well as for stomach issues. Chicory is also rich in antioxidants, inulin, and prebiotics. The leaves can be eaten fresh as an addition to salads, while the chopped root can be brewed into a strong tea or steeped in alcohol to make a tincture. One other fantastic use of chicory root is as a coffee substitute.
Chicory “Coffee” Recipe
- First, dig up, dry, and then roast the root.
- Grind it as you would coffee beans.
- To make the “coffee,” steep about 1 tablespoon of ground chicory root in 8 oz. boiling water for 8-10 minutes and then stir before drinking.
So, rethink your approach to “weed” species and consider how beneficial they sometimes can be to the environment, as well as to you.