Friday, 26 September 2008

Chicory - The Bitter Truth

Chicory is a strange herb; my experiences with it are few as it was never homegrown when I was young. It always reminded me of a bitter tasting vegetable but strangely addictive. Chicory coffee, again always had this bitterness about it and I have never really taken to it, it seemingly is a poor man's coffee alternative although that is changing as it is promoted as a health drink and the crazy price tag that will go alongside that!

Basically chicory is a vegetable salad leaf. it can be grown for its leaves and enjoyed eaten raw as a salad. It has a distinctivewhite bulb of tightly packed overlapping white leaves with the leaf tips pale yellow in colour. We call it chicory here in Europe, but it is called 'witloof' in Belgium and 'Belgian endive' in America.

In England during the Second World War it was used extensively for Camp Coffee, this was a coffee and chicory compound, which has now been marketed commercially since 1885. This coffee made out of chicory roots has been used in prison in the USA as a cost saving supplement to real coffee.

There is a Roman recipe using chicory is an ingredient and fried with garlic and red pepper. It has bitter and spicy taste and goes very well with meat and potatoes dishes.

Chicory root contains oils that are toxic to internal parasites and is now grown and used use as a food supplement to farm animals as a natural form of parasite control.

The Belgian endive has a small cream coloured head of bitter leaves. It is grown underground or indoors without sunlight in order to stop the leaves turning green, France is the largest producer of these types of endives.

Root chicory has been in grown in Europe and this is the part that is used as a coffee substitute. The process involves baking and grinding the roots to produce the coffee substitute. This is made in the Mediterranean region where the plant is native.

In Germany chicory, including the flower was used as a treatment for everyday ailments. It is used as a tonic and appetite stimulant and as a remedy for gallstones, gastro-enteritis, sinus problems as well as treating cuts and bruises.

Chicory is not everyone's favourite herb due to its bitter taste, but again, the use of the plant remains a natural alternative to coffee and spicing up salads. Alongside its qualities as an alternative medicine for many ailments this makes it a worthwhile herb to use and cultivate at home.

If you want to have a go at growing chicory, I would certainly recommend it, there is a very good article giving a growing guide to chicory, which you may want, to refer to: How-to-Grow-Chicory


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