NOTE: Please read our full disclaimer at the end of this article before harvesting or consuming wild-harvested or foraged chicory.
Having grown up in the USA, I wouldn’t expect that my close relatives in Russia would have anything to teach me about local plant life. But when my aunt was visiting from Russia one summer, she surprised me when we were on a hike in a nearby park.
“See that?” she said, pointing at a weedy plant growing right in the middle of the trail. “It’s chicory.” Cichorium intybus, more commonly known as chicory, is a plant native to north Africa, Europe, and western Asia. It’s naturalized in the United States, and even invasive in some areas — which is why my aunt stumbled across it so far from its native territory. Once you know what to look for, it’s easily recognized by its attractive purpley-blue flowers (sometimes whitish or pinkish), which can bloom persistently anywhere from March through October, depending on where you live. It also has dandelion-like leaves, and it’s tall — it can grow anywhere from two to four feet! If you’ve got a keen eye for plants, you might even recognize it at a local farmer’s market. Cichorium intybus is sometimes sold as curly endives, and it’s closely related to Cichorium endivia, the salad green known as endives or escarole.
People have known for a long time about the medical benefits of Cichorium intybus. It was cultivated in ancient Egypt as a medicinal plant, and since then, decoctions of chicory have been used for treating everything from cancer to malaria. Chicory can have some side effects; some people have an allergic reaction, and it’s not recommended for consumption by people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. That being said, modern pharmacological trials have borne out some of its older medicinal uses. Researchers have found that chicory extracts have mild antibacterial activity. They’ve also found that the inulin in chicory can potentially help manage blood sugar levels, and consuming chicory coffee might benefit the cardiovascular system by decreasing inflammation.
Which brings us to the topic of interest for today: chicory coffee! Roasted and ground chicory roots have a malty flavor reminiscent of coffee, and they’ve been used to supplement coffee ever since coffee consumption became widespread in Europe in the 1700s. In the United States, chicory coffee holds a special place in New Orleans. The city was the United State’s largest importer of coffee pre-Civil War. When the Civil War hit and the city was put under a Union blockade, citizens were desperate to make their precious supplies of coffee last, so they started mixing coffee grounds with chicory. And the unusual blend stuck around — to this day, you can order a cup of chicory coffee in some of New Orlean’s most popular cafes. Whether you’re looking to reduce your caffeine intake or just to try a smoother, less bitter coffee blend, chicory coffee is a great option.
Chicory grounds are easy to purchase locally or online through sellers like Penn Herb Company, but you can also harvest this invasive weed and make your own chicory grounds. Whether you’re foraging for chicory or growing it in your garden, you’ll want to start by pulling up the roots. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In the meantime, wash and chop the roots; you can julienne them or chop them into disks, whichever you prefer. Once you’re done with that, roast them for at least 90 minutes — you’ll want to make sure they’re thoroughly dried. Then put them through a food processor or a burr grinder.
When you’ve got your chicory grounds, there’s a lot of options for enjoying them. Steep a tablespoon in a cup of hot water for chicory tea. Or replace about one-third of your coffee grounds with chicory in your favorite recipe. You can drink chicory coffee the way you’d drink normal coffee — cold brew, or black, or with a splash of sugar, cream or condensed milk for sweetness. If you want a coffee drink with a flair, scroll down for our own chicory cold-brew recipe. You can also find a video here!
Chicory Cold Brew (serves 3)
- ⅔ cup coffee grounds
- ⅓ cup chicory root grounds
- 1 tsp cardamom
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp condensed milk
PREPARING THE COLD BREW:
- Mix the coffee, chicory, and spices in your favorite French press
- Add about 4 – 6 cups of water (depending on how strong you want it to be!)
- Steep for at least 12 hours
PREPARING THE TOPPING:
- Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, condensed milk, and heavy cream to a mixing bowl
- Whip until thickened (but not stiff) — about 5 to 8 minutes
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
- Add some ice cubes to a glass, pour the cold brew over the ice, and pile on the desired amount of topping — give it a bit of a stir so that some of the cream and sugar blends with the coffee!
The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees, or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.
The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.
To the best of our knowledge, the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.
SAFETY PRECAUTION: While there are many plants which are helpful and beneficial for us to partner with, there are plants that are dangerous for us to consume or even to touch. It’s important that we take the necessary precautions – in a city space: avoid harvesting from places with pollution or runoff; avoid harvesting endangered plants; understand there are some plants used medicinally only in small doses vs some that can be eaten with relatively little concern. The most important thing is that you trust your body, go slow with incorporating any new plants into your diet!
This blog post was researched and written by Daria Syskine.
SUPPORT US! If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.