Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Chicory flowers are pretty
Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is also sometimes called blue sailors, wild chicory, succory, wild succory, coffeeweed or cornflower – but it is not the same plant as the one generally called cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, nor is it closely related.
Chicory is a hardy perennial which can reach a height of 4’6″ if allowed to flower. It’s a native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, but can also be found growing wild in the US, probably as an escape from cultivation. It is not at all fussy as to soil, able to survive in very acid or very alkaline soil so long as it is both well drained and moist. It needs full sun or partial shade.
There’s a lot of confusion between chicory and endive, which is not helped by the fact that in the US, some varieties of chicory are called endive, in particular “Belgian endive”, “French endive” and “red endive” (radicchio), all of which are in fact chicory varieties. To further add to the confusion the plant called by the French chicorée frisée is the curly endive, which is called chicory in US grocery stores.
To be honest, what you choose to call these 2 closely related plants is fairly irrelevant, so long as you always go by the Latin name when checking remedial uses. In addition, if you decide to grow both of them, you will need to label them, as there is a striking similarity between some varieties, particularly when in flower. If you do decide to grow both, the seeds should not be used for propagation, as they are likely to produce hybrids, which would confuse the issue even further.
In France the ground root is often added to coffee, but the leaves of chicory are generally reserved for the salad bowl (in the form of chicons – see picture left – which are grown in the dark during Winter – to find out more, visit the chicory page in the crops section of the Gardenzone), though they can also be cooked.
Apparently, in Turkey, chicory sap is used to make chewing gum, though I expect you would need a fair number of plants to produce this in any quantity. The root is the source of inulin, which is often touted as a diabetic food, but as it is indigestible to humans, is not of any real value as such. However, it can be used as a safe diabetic sweetener.
Medicinally, the main parts used are the root and the leaves. The root is more active medicinally and is usually lifted in the Fall and dried. The leaves are gathered as the plants come into flower, and can be dried for later use.
To dry the roots, cut into small pieces and lay the pieces out in a single layer on a tray or other flat surface somewhere airy and out of the sun. Leaves can also be dried in a similar way. In both cases, check the trays every couple of days and turn the contents over until they are well dried and ready to be stored. Store in airtight containers, preferably dark in color, label with the description and the date, and put them somewhere cool and dry.
Do not use this herb in large quantities over a long period, as it may have damaging effects on the retina.
You can make a poultice by boiling a quantity of fresh leaves and flowers in a little water until soft, then wrapping in a fine cloth. Squeeze out excess water and use to soothe painful inflammations by applying directly and holding in place until cool, then refresh with the remaining hot liquid in the pan, squeeze out and re-apply ad lib.
Make a standard decoction by adding 15g (half an ounce) of dried root or twice the quantity of fresh to a saucepan containing 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain before use. A decoction of the whole plant is made in the same way, using a couple of handfuls of the plant, roughly chopped.
A standard infusion is made by adding 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water and allowing to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours before straining.
The dosage in either case is 75ml (1/3 US cup, 3 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.
The standard decoction can be used to treat jaundice and other liver conditions, gout and rheumatism, and may also be helpful as a heart tonic. The whole plant decoction can be used to treat gravel (small stones in the kidney or gall bladder). The infusion is helpful for gastritis and other digestive complaints, and to improve the appetite.
It’s important that chicory, like all herbs intended for medicinal use, should be grown organically to avoid foreign chemicals corrupting or eliminating its beneficial properties. To find out more about growing organic chicory visit the Gardenzone.