Outside: Chicory, the cornerstone of mountain coffee
Published 12:00 pm Monday, July 3, 2023
By Steve Roark
Chicory was a popular wild plant back in early settlement days, when it was used to make a coffee-like beverage. Its blue flowers are easy to spot right now growing along roadsides. Close up these dandelion-like flowers that have fringed, flat tipped petals, which can sometimes be white or pink. The flower will usually close in the late afternoon or on overcast days. The leaves at the base of the plant also remind you of dandelion, being in the same family, and will bleed a milky sap when broken off.
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Besides being used as a coffee substitute, chicory was also used for centuries as a medicinal. The root is recorded to have been used to treat stomach ailments, as a laxative, and to treat a fever.
Research indicates that chicory has been found to have antibacterial qualities and to slow heart rate. It may eventually be a source of medication to treat heart irregularities.
The root of chicory has a fleshy white color. It can be dug up in the fall, roasted in an oven until dark brown and brittle, then ground and prepared like coffee. Only try small amounts of a new food in case of food allergies. Use roughly 1½ teaspoons of chicory for each cup of water. Always start the brewing process with cold water. Do not boil while brewing, as this may make the coffee bitter and drive off some of the oils that contribute to the flavor. Brewing time will vary to your own taste but should be kept to a minimum to prevent the flavor being too strong. The root of chicory will lose its flavor when exposed to air, so keep it in a tight container, especially after being ground.
You can find chicory in health food stores as a beverage. Drinking chicory is purported to lower blood sugar.
Steve Roark is a volunteer at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in east Tennessee.