The name chicory is believed to be of Egyptian origin, but it was the Romans who relished the plant as a cooked vegetable or in salads and who took the herb with them into their conquered lands.
Chicory, cichorium intybus, is a tall, attractive, wild herb which grows on chalk or sandy soils by country lanes, in open fields, and on waste places. Chicory is a perennial herb and has a long tap root similar to a dandelion. It grows stiffly upright to a height of 2—3 ft (61—91 cm). The leaves on the branching stems are small and sparse, while the basal leaves are large and spreading. The flowers are a lovely brilliant blue, the shape and size of a dandelion, and they bloom from July until September. They open early in the morning but are always closed by midday.
In the kitchen, chicory root is sliced, dried and ground for adding to coffee blends. Young leaves are used in salads but are usually blanched before eating.
Chicory is a hardy plant and easy to grow in a sunny spot in ordinary garden soil. Sow the seed in May and, when large enough, thin the seedlings to a hand’s width apart. Water the plants in a dry spell.
The root is the part that is most often used medicinally. They can be lifted at the end of the growing season, scrubbed, dried and stored in the usual way.
A decoction of chicory root is a helpful remedy for mild liver complaints and rheumatic twinges.
* To make a decoction: Put a handful of the dried root in an enamel pan with 2 cups of water. Leave it to stand for 30 minutes then bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then strain. Take a small glassful at a time when required. The decoction is also good for the digestive system. Chicory is a tonic herb and therefore helpful to those suffering from loss of appetite.
A poultice made of the boiled leaves and flowers is a remedy for inflammations of the skin.
* To make a poultice: Place fresh crushed leaves and flowers in a small muslin or cheesecloth bag. Tie up the top and put it into an enamel pan. Pour on sufficient water to cover the bag and bring it slowly to the boil. Remove the bag and place it, as hot as can be borne, on the skin. Secure the poultice lightly in place and use the water to bathe the skin.