Chicory is the common name given to a pretty little flowering plant that grows wild on roadsides all over America.
On your travels far and wide, I’m sure you’ve noticed the sturdy little blue flowers along almost every road all summer long. That little flower is called Chicory. Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a bushy perennial herb with blue or lavender flowers. Originating from Europe, it was naturalized in North America, where it has become a common roadside plant. The roots are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive in the plant’s Mediterranean region of origin, although its use as a coffee additive is still very popular in India, parts of Southeast Asia and the American South, particularly in New Orleans. It is a staple in Cajun-style red-eye gravy. Common Chicory is also known as blue sailors, succory, and coffeeweed.
The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple, “As for me, olives, endives (chicory), and mallows provide sustenance.” Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the “chicoree,” which the French cultivate as a “pot herb.” In the Napoleonic Era in France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee or a coffee substitute; this practive also became common in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the US chicory has long veen used as a substitute for coffee in prisons.
Chicory is an ingredient in typical Roman recipes, generally fried with garlic and red pepper, with its bitter and spicy taste, often together with meat or potatoes.
Chicory, especially the flower, was used as a treatment in Germany, and is recorded in many books as an ancient German treatment for everyday ailments. It is variously used as a tonic and appetite stimulant, and as a treatment for gallstones, gastro-enteritis, sinus problems and cuts and bruises.
The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue Flower. It was also believed to be able to open locked doors, according to European folklore.
So much history and so many uses for such a pretty little flower!