Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Is "Pretty Weed" an oxymoron?

This plant would seriously belong in last week's post: "Weeds or Wildflowers" (June 18). I am tempted to vote weed when I see it growing profusely along the very edge of every road all over the midwest, from now to early autumn. It looks as gangly and obnoxious as ugly's cousin. But when the flowers appear, well, you decide...

Chicory's stiff stem bears several stalkless, showy, blue (rarely white or pink) flower heads.

From underneath, looking into blue sky.
The flower's width is 1.5" diameter (4cm) with several square-tipped, fringed rays.

The two-parted style is surrounded by dark blue, fused anthers. Can you see little square columns?

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Basal leaves (3-6" long) are shaped like a spatula, resembling Dandelion leaves, and are pinnately cut (feather-shaped).

Root: Long, stout, and fleshy with milky juice.

Height: 12-52" (30-130cm)

Flowering: June - October

Habitat: Fields, roadsides, and waste places.

Insect pollinated; chiefly bees.

Only a few flower heads on a plant open at one time, and each lasts only a day. In fact, they open in the morning, and close in the afternoon. It is not a good vase flower.

This is an alien from Europe and Asia, and has escaped to abundance throughout most of the U.S.

Chicory was used as a means of extending the coffee supply during the Civil War, WWI, and WWII.

Some people prefer Chicory to real coffee.

The Chicory used to be cultivated for this use. If you want to try the process for yourself, go for it. Find a strong and experienced shoveler, because the ground is usually hard-packed and dry along the side of the road. Dig up some of the long roots.

Wash them thoroughly.

Scrub them with a stiff brush, or scrape them with a knife like I did here.

Then roast them slowly in a partly opened oven until they will break crisply between the fingers, exposing a dark brown interior. Grind them and store them in a closed container for brewing as a coffee substitute, or for blending with your regular supply of coffee beans.

I did not do these last steps because the recommended harvest time is just after the flowering ceases.

NOTE: This product is available commercially. I've seen it on the web for $6.99/pound. While you're looking for it, be certain to research (Google) this plant. There are numerous articles promoting it; as well as some articles against it due to possible side effects after long-term use.

Chicory has many nicknames:

Blue Sailors, Wild Succory, Ragged Sailors, Barbe de Capuchin (French Endive), Blue Daisy, Blue Dandelions, and Wild Bachelor Buttons.

I'll bet that the UNC students and alumni love this color:

Now that you've spent a little time with "Chicory"
she wants to ask you two crucial questions:

"Do you think I'm pretty?"                                                    

"Or do you think I'm an oxymoron?"

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Photo Locations:  Grattan Township, (Grattan Township) Kent County, Michigan

Reference:  Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants - Bradford Angier (Angier)