Chicory

These ghostly blue flowers hover on dark green stems along roadsides across the country. Cichorium intybus, Chicory, or French Endive — no matter what name you call it, it’s still lovely.

Blue Chicory flower.

Chicory hovers up to 2 feet above the ground on nearly leafless dark green stalks. These stalks typically have more than one flower blooming at a time, but they alternate up the stalk and don’t appear in clusters.

At the base of the plant there is a cluster of spiky-looking dark green leaves, rather dull in appearance. They resemble dandelions but are a little thicker.

When I was a child, I named these Ghostflowers. In the evening, laying on the grass, the stalks nearly disappear from sight. The eerie blue blossoms hover above the ground, glowing in the blue evening light like tiny ghosts.

Nearly white Chicory.
Chicory. Another picture, just because it’s pretty. Some Fleabane in the background.

Lately I’ve been seeing white chicory blossoms by the side of the road! This is a new thing for me. Up close, a lot of them have some blue on them, but others really are pure white. Here is a picture of some of the bluey-white ones. I had some pure white ones, but the pictures are too blurry because my cell phone camera only does so much. I’ve seen them in Oella and Patapsco.

Chicory itself is not native to the USA, but was introduced by European settlers because it’s delicious and a traditional herbal medicine. It is found throughout the entire continental USA. It is considered a noxious weed in Colorado, but not considered harmful in Maryland.

Speaking of delicious… If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, I sure hope you’ve had a cup of fine Chicory coffee. The flavor is rich and about as describable as chocolate — which is to say, you can’t describe it other than to say it’s good. It complements coffee and chocolate. I absolutely recommend. Some people use Chicory by itself as a hot drink.

Think you can reproduce that wonderful Louisiana flavor yourself by foraging? Well, the plant grows everywhere. The drink is brewed from the root which is roasted, dried, and ground into granules. You’re welcome to try. I have, myself. However, while the flavor I produced was palatable, it did not come close to the quality of the Chicory drink produced by the professionals. There are apparently numerous cultivars with different attributes, and the roasting itself is likely a rather precise procedure. If someone else has had more success than I, speak up and share your tips!

The entire Chicory plant is edible. I have eaten the flowers and leaves and found them to be dry and mostly tasteless. I am told most people find them bitter, especially during the hot summer. I have completely non-functioning bitter receptors, so I never find anything bitter, so be prepared. To eat in the summer, blanch the leaves in saltwater, drain, and rinse. You can also dress with vinegar to cut the bitter taste. I do all of these on occasion with Endive, a close relative to Chicory.

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