Chickory

July 27, 2010 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

For me, this cheerful, sprawling, unpretentious plant embodies the carefree nature of my childhood summers in the Northeast. Like so many other parts of my botanical nostalgia, however, Chickory (Chichorium intybus) is native to Europe and a relative newcomer to this continent.

My childhood Chicories were direct descendants of escapees from colonial gardens. You might have eaten this species in a fancy restaurant, in a variety known as Radicchio. It’s also very closely related to Endive. This makes me wonder how many other scraggly roadside plants we scoff at, and then solemnly purchase at great cost when they’re in a slightly different format.

Back in World War II when people were tightening their belts, Chicory was used as a cheap local coffee substitute. This surprises me because Chicory contains absolutely no caffeine. Perhaps people drank it because it was just as appealingly caustic as coffee? Studies show that farm animals feeding on Chicory have a significantly reduced population of parasitic worms in their systems. Yum.

Add these dubious qualities to the fact that Chicory can aggressively displace native plants, and perhaps it’s best enjoyed as a warm fuzzy part of your childhood memories. Ah yes, those hazy, lazy summers, long before you knew anything about intestinal parasites or decaf.

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Entry filed under: Herbaceous plants.

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