Re: chicory - more than you really want to know
This publication has, from time to time, reported on the ongoing discussion
concerning native plants as opposed to "invasive aliens," and the political
aspects of this matter. As we drive through the countryside this month, surely
we enjoy the beauty of blue Chicory flowers and white Queen Anne's Lace that
line our roadsides. And yet, neither of these plants is native to this
continent, and both can be considered invasive under certain circumstances.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years
for medicinal and culinary properties, some of which are still recognized today.
The name, chicory, is thought to be of Egyptian origin, and with only minor
variations, has been absorbed into virtually every European language. The
other name of chicory, endive is derived from another ancient Eastern name,
hendibeh. Yes, both types of endive; the rather rough bitter greens we pronounce to
rhyme with "dive", and the fancy, expensive, blanched, tightly-wrapped, heads
we pronounce in the French fashion as "ahn-deeve" are varieties of chicory.
Early Greeks and Romans enjoyed chicory both as a vegetable and as a salad
ingredient. Charlemagne demanded that chicory be planted in his gardens, and
the French drank a coffee-like brew of the root before coffee itself was
introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century.
Queen Elizabeth I drank a broth made from chicory, though it was not much
planted in England in her day.
Thomas Jefferson considered chicory "a tolerable sallad for the table." He
raised his chicory from seeds it is believed he imported from Italy. In
1795, he recommended the plant to fellow farmer, George Washington, as a fine
To this day, in some parts of Europe and the American South the favorite
coffee contains a blend of chicory. One author notes that chicory is never a
coffee substitute - it's a coffee flavorer. Fine chefs in New Orleans consider a
10% chicory blend to be optimal, but in the bayou country, a 25% blend is
favored. To obtain this, the root is dried and ground, and really looks just
like coffee. However, although it contains 10 of the 24 chemical ingredients of
coffee, it has no caffeine.
In addition to chicory's use as a vegetable, for which it is extensively
grown in Belgium, chicory has a long history of medicinal uses, especially for
problems of the liver. It has also been credited with sharpening the appetite,
relieving urinary infections and ridding the body of impurities. A decoction
of the root was long considered beneficial to diabetics, as it lowers
blood-sugar levels. It was also recommended to relieve arthritis and gout, and as a
treatment for jaundice.
And finally, we may add the brilliant blue blossoms to our list of edible
flowers. They make a colorful addition to salads if picked early in the day,
but they are morning-bloomers and fade with the passage of the day. There is
an early-seventeenth century recipe for a conserve of chicory flowers which was
sometimes used in the treatment of tuberculosis.
These versatile and useful plants may be cultivated in the garden, but they
also freely adorn our roadsides, often accompanied by the delicate white
discs of wild carrot, Daucus carota or Queen Anne's Lace. This member of the
Umbellifera or Parsley family bears the same botanical name as the cultivated
carrot. Like chicory, carrots have been cultivated since the earliest times
throughout the Mediterranean basin. The word carota, was used by both early Greeks
and Romans, and modern Greeks still call the carrot karoto.
Carrots were not introduced to the British Isles until the reign of
Elizabeth I, when it was brought by Protestant Flemings fleeing their homeland to
escape religious persecution by Philip II of Spain. Fashionable ladies quickly
adopted the delicate leaves and flowers to adorn their headdresses. It was a
favorite of Queen Anne, but it is not clear how the legend developed that
credits the single dark red floret in the center of each flower-head to a drop of
the monarch's blood when she pricked her finger while making lace.
Although both wild and cultivated carrots are rich sources of vitamin A,
and have been valued for their antiseptic and other medicinal properties since
ancient times, the wild ones are considered medicinally superior. All parts
of the plant are used, and the list of conditions for which it is beneficial is
A pulp of the freshly-grated root is used to treat all sorts of skin
diseases. A decoction of the roots is recommended as a remedy for coughs, asthma,
flatulence, stomach ulcers, kidney stones, and to improve night vision.
In France, studies have indicated that drinking a wineglassful of fresh
juice of the roots promotes immunity to upper respiratory infections.
The green leaves, macerated in honey, provide a soothing treatment for open
sores and ulcers.
Even the little red floret has been credited with medicinal virtues.
Chewing it was believed to prevent epileptic seizures.
Given all these virtues, should we not be thankful that we have been
invaded by these aliens? T
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