Chicory – Cichorium Intybus: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Coffeeweed of Wild Plants

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Chicory is a popular edible and medicinal plant with a knack as a coffee substitute. And yet another naturalized plant from Europe. Its bright blue blooms are eye catching, scattered along the roadside throughout summer. But keep reading – they aren’t just flair!

I thought about calling it the time teller of edible and medicinal wild plants. The flowers open and close at the same time every day, but I haven’t had one right outside my window to keep track. I definitely want to watch it for this some year! They are included in the “floral clock” by Carl Linnaeus; side note little did I know of him when I was young and thought his classification system was amazing. I didn’t see his racial classifications. What a disappointment. I’m not one to make excuses for this racist mentality, in the past or present.

Chicory - Cichorium Intybus
Chicory – Cichorium Intybus

Edible Uses of Chicory

The early greens look similar to dandelion, and both plants are edible. Some would say chicory leaves taste better! The leaves can be eaten raw, but like most if not all forbs, they become bitter with age. Eat the older leaves boiled with 1 change of water to remove the bitterness. Chicory is sometimes sold commercially as a tangy flavoring to add to soup and stews. It’s also grown commercially for its fructose/sugar.

The young, blanched white underground parts of the plant grown in warm darkness are the least bitter, making an excellent cooked vegetable. This is a project on my to-try list! Maybe the thought makes you picture an endive? Belgian endive is from the same plant family.

The slender roots can be eaten boiled, raw or roasted. If cultivated, you can get larger, fleshier roots. They have a carrot like flavor when young. Chicory root is most often made into a coffee substitute, about 1 1/2 tsp of the roasted brittle, dried and ground roots per cup, for a caffeine free weed-coffee. You could also mix 1 part coffee to 1 part or less chicory – keeping in mind chicory is a stronger flavor than coffee. The strong flavor has been used in brewing the likes of ales too. Roots are best collected before or after the plant flowers, not during.

Speaking of flowers, the flower heads can be added to salads, pickled or cooked in soups and stews.

Rich in vitamins A and C.

Medicinal Uses of Chicory

Chicory is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Intergumetary
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Antipyretic, Antiseptic, Aperient, Astringent, Carminative, Diuretic, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the roots as a liver tonic to support treating liver disorders – and continuing all the way down, gallstones (may irritate gallbladder problems, though, because it stimulates bile production!), kidney stones and even urinary tract infections. Chicory is almost dandelions twin in uses including its support of the liver and digestion. It’s been called “blue dandelion”.

Distilled flowers are used for eye inflammation. Leaf and flower poultices are used on wounds, bruises and swellings. Roots, leaves and flowers can be made into a tea wash for skin irritations including poison ivy and stings – and the list goes on for many other typical astringent uses. It’s another Bach flower remedy too.

Some studies show chicory root is hypoglycemic/lowers blood sugar. And it’s being studied for heart issues. We know hardly anything about all the medicinal gifts of the plant world. When I hit 200-something local plants here I’ll be nearing the end of local, known “edible” or “medicinal” plant life. Yet there will be hundreds of local plants left that are hardly documented. Imagine all the wonderful chemical components in these less known plants.

Alternative Uses of Coffeeweed

The leaves make a blue dye. Mindbogglingly, the blue flowers make a yellow dye. That’s due to a chemical reaction (glucoside, alkalies). Science!

Chicory - Cichorium Intybus
Chicory – Cichorium Intybus

Growing Cichorium Intybus

Chicory likes lime rich soil. For fleshy roots the ground must be rich, light and well manured. Growing the underground leaf in the dark is also a fun option (see Edible Uses above). It’s best grown in a vegetable garden, as it’s not native here. Although fairy common here, it doesn’t seem aggressive and I usually only notice it in gravelly disturbed soils, like around the community mailbox.

Native plants like bottle gentian, great blue lobelia (more of a purple really), harebell, hoary vervain are blue flowered possibilities that will be more suited to local pollinators. Funny how most native plants with blue in their name are actually purple. Creeping phlox, Virginia bluebells, Jacob’s ladder, spiderwort, some blueish violets and wild lupine come to mind too.


Some people develop rashes from contact with the ground root.

Excessive or prolonged use isn’t recommended.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants: The Key to Nature’s Most Useful Secrets

The Herb Bible

A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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