The plant known as the chicory, or the succory, is a member of the daisy family of plants - Asteraceae. The botanical name or the plant is Cichorium intybus L., this is a perennial herb. Chicory is native to Europe and originally grew only there, however, it has been transplanted to other places and is now found growing in wild on the side of roads as well as in fields in North America and other temperate regions of the world. The chicory herb can reach from three to more than five feet when fully grown. This herb is a very conspicuous plant because of the attractive azure blue flowers it bears in season. Roasted chicory root is used as an additive in coffee, and the plant has been cultivated in large commercial plantations in Europe for many years to meet the demands of the beverage industry. The roasted chicory root is sometimes used as a coffee substitute as well aside from its use as an additive in coffee. The leaves of the chicory plant are also in demand in markets around the world; the leaves are used in the preparation of salads and eaten raw as greens. One result of active cultivation of the chicory is the existence of many cultivated varieties of the plant. These different varieties of the chicory differ from one another mainly in the size and the texture of the leaves and the roots.
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The root of the chicory is utilized in traditional European folk medicine; the root is mainly used in the role of a mild and non irritating general herbal tonic. The root was also employed as a general herbal diuretic remedy and particularly valued for its laxative effect. Traditionally, the chicory is stated to benefit the liver by protecting it from the effects of excess coffee, the chicory is also said to be a counter stimulant alleviating the deleterious effects of drinking excessive amounts of coffee. In present day Egypt, the root of the chicory is still valued as a traditional folk remedy for treating tachycardia - rapid heartbeats in a person. Chicory leaves, which have been bruised are seen as a good poultice for external complaints on the skin, and bruised chicory leaves are often applied to bring relief from local swellings and inflammation of the skin. The leaves of the chicory are additionally valued as a leafy green vegetable being relished as a vegetable dish.
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On chemical analysis, a surprisingly big number of chemical compounds were identified in the root of the herb, however, not a single one of these compounds proved to be particularly active or beneficial, physiologically speaking. The chemical constituents found in the chicory root included 11% to 15% of the polysaccharide inulin - the level of this sugar rose up to 58% if the plant fraction being examined came from cultivated plants. About 10% to 22% of the extract was composed of the plant sugar fructose. The two sugars formed the largest fractions, in addition, the bitter principles lactucin and lactucopicrin, some tannin, a fatty and a volatile oil, and trace amounts of several other compounds were also extracted from the chicory root. The polysaccharide inulin is of special interest, when looking at the root fraction from the culinary point of view. When the chicory root is roasted, the inulin in it undergoes chemical conversion to form a compound known as oxymethylfurfurol. This compound has an aroma that is similar to coffee, this is the reason that chicory is mixed with coffee.
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A scientific report that has been around for more than half a century in the clinical literature, states that the compound lactucin and to some degree, the compound lactucopicrin, are capable of inducing a sedative effect on the central nervous system and can antagonize the stimulating abilities of any beverage containing the alkaloid caffeine. The results of this report are significant. The clinicians utilized rabbits and mice in the study and the results obtained may explain some of the old traditional tales about the ability of chicory to counter the unwanted "nervous" effects of coffee on the human body. At the same time, there is a need for much more intensive study on the chicory. Tests, including taking quantitative and thorough measurement of the bitter principles contained in the roots of various varieties of chicory must be carried out, before these effects can be attributed as being the benefits of using chicory.
The root of the chicory has been used in the folk medicine of Pakistan for treating liver disease and hepatic system related disorders. A group of clinical researchers recently isolated a phenolic compound called esculetin, from the extracts of the chicory root and they further confirmed that is a hepatoprotectant compound. The compound showed liver protecting activity in mice with hepatic damage induced by paracetamol and carbon tetrachloride. The potent hepatoprotective activity is associated with the aqueous extract of the chicory root; this extract inhibited the oxidative degradation of DNA in tissue debris of mice liver.
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Chicory has no known severe side effects associated with its consumption. This is not surprising as the chicory has been consumed in very huge quantities by many people down the centuries and except for reports of an occasional allergy that are no known serious effects of long term use. This lack of a side effect and the harmless nature of the herb also make it difficult to believe that it has any ability to bring on pronounced physiological or therapeutic actions on the human body. Whatever it may be, the inevitable conclusion is that the chicory is certainly as safe if not safer and produces much less of an effect on the nervous system and on the heart than caffeine containing coffee - a plant with which it is usually mixed and sold.
In many countries, the chicory can be seen growing wild in fields and pastures and along marginal areas such as roadsides and wastelands. Gardeners are often irritated by the propensity of the hardy chicory to sometimes pop up in the midst of well maintained lawns and gardens. Cultivated varieties of chicory are often grown as vegetables in gardens and fields; however, these must not be mistaken for the wild variety of the plant.
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The chicory is a small perennial herb. The taproot of the chicory resembles the root of the dandelion herb. Chicory is easy to identify due to the lovely and striking blue colored flowers and the generalized unkempt appearance of the herb. The branches of the chicory are set off angularly from the main stem, giving the chicory a straggly appearance. The arrangement of leaves on the plant is rather sparse compared to other herbs of similar size. The stem of the herb is clasped by the bases of the leaves in a peculiar manner. Large and somewhat hairy leaves are seen at the base of the plant, and this appearance of the plant resembles that of the dandelion to some extent, this is the reason that the chicory is known by the nickname of "blue dandelion" in Europe.
The chicory is a very hardy plant and like many other strong, wild herbs, it is not very particular about the type of soil - growing well on most soils. If the requirement is to cultivate the chicory principally for its root, it is best to grow the plants in a deep soil bed. The topsoil at the site must be enriched by mixing sawdust and composted manure. In areas where the soil is friable and the bed is deep, it may be much easier to gather the roots of first year plants in the fall. To propagate chicory, the stored seeds can be sown late in the spring but not earlier or it will result in bolting of the seeds. The seeds need to be planted in drills spaced approximately fifteen inches apart. The growing plants must be provided with moderate water and their exposure to sunlight must be limited. If these measures are taken, the crop will produce a plenty of healing roots in time. An important factor to take into account is that the chicory tends to spread out and takes over sites from other plants, therefore, it may be best to confine or plant the chicory in a separate area within the garden of the field.
The roasted root of the wild or cultivated chicory is used as an additive in coffee or even as a substitute in many European countries, chicory may be added just to balance the flavor of coffee in these countries. Green salads eaten in some parts of Europe also tend to include chicory leaves. The chicory root is steamed or boiled by some European cooks, it may then be seasoned with some butter, other herbs, and spices before it is eaten.
Only the dubious role played by chicory in the garden is the only thing that some people may want to see, however, people who are familiar with the medicinal value and beneficial properties of the chicory praise this wonderful herb. Chicory was extensively used in folk medicine; traditionally chicory root was employed in the treatment of problems such as jaundice and other liver disorders. However, the efficacy or curative nature of such folk treatments using chicory has not been substantiated by any current scientific studies. At the same time, the French herbalist Maurice Messegue contends that the main reason for the great popularity of the chicory in France as a coffee additive or as a substitute is that due to that fact that chicory is a good "liver herb." The herbalist states that chicory tones and detoxifies the liver; this according to the herbalist is excellent for people who perhaps enjoy French cuisine a bit too much for their own good. The chicory comes into a lot of praise from French herbalists, who believe that when chicory is added to coffee, it actively counteracts the acidic quality of the coffee and thus tones down the adverse effect of coffee on the stomach and digestive system. Acidity problem affecting the stomach is usually treated using a decoction of the dried chicory root - this remedy is the most noted herbal treatment for this complaint.
Chicory leaves also possess healing properties when they are used in herbal remedies. The leaves are first softened, bruised and the soaked for a few minutes in boil water that has just been removed from the stove. An herbal poultice made from leaves of the chicory plant serves as a traditional treatment in Europe and the US for all kinds of lacerations on the skin, as well as to treat swellings and inflammation on the skin. The tender leaves are collected and used in the kitchen, often added to salads; the leaves must be plucked before the plant gives off flowers. Eating the tender leaves is believed to bring a salutary effect on the functioning of the liver and the kidneys; this beneficial effect is similar to the action of the bitter leaves of the dandelion plant. Herbalists classify the leaves of both the chicory and dandelion plants as having a warm and moistening effect on the body, the roots of these two plants are however, said to bring on a warm and drying effect on the body. When compared with the dandelion, it can be said that the traditional medicinal properties associated with the chicory - such as a tonic, laxative, and diuretic effect - are quite similar.
The use of the chicory and the beneficial properties of the plant were known to the herbal medical community of many ancient societies - the chicory was used both as a medicine and as a food. For example, the chicory was used by the ancient Romans to treat disorders of the liver. Chicory was also often prescribed by herbalists of recent centuries to cure a whole host of ailments; the herbalist of the middle ages often recommended herbal remedies made from the chicory roots as tonics, as laxatives, and as diuretics. Swollen and inflamed skin was usually treated using an herbal poultices made from bruised chicory leaves. The milky sap of the chicory plant was once looked upon by herbalist as a divine sign that the juice would be an excellent remedy for nursing mothers who could not feed their babies due to problems with lactation.
The main use of both the wild and cultivated varieties of chicory these days is mainly as a food item. The vegetable known as the Belgian endive is in reality another variety of the Cichorium intybus plant - chicory. The preparation of chicory as an additive for coffee is a long process, first, the roots are dug up and the aerial parts are removed. The roots are then replanted in pots inside a dark cellar; they are then left to grow till they give off small growths. These are small and pale leaf heads which grow to a height of a few inches only. The roots are again dug up once this growth appears, they are then subjected to a drying process, once dried they are then roasted and ground. The grounded root is often blended with coffee powder. The addition of chicory in coffee, often endows the brew with a pleasant bitter taste that also lowers the stimulating effect of caffeine. This alkaloid is absent in chicory.
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Remedies made from the chicory are a very effective and mild bitter tonic to alleviate problems affecting the digestive tract or the liver. In terms of therapeutic value, the chicory root remedy has a similar action to that made from the root of the dandelion herb - botanical name Taraxacum officinale. The chicory herbal remedy boosts the functioning of the stomach and the liver, while cleansing and detoxifying the urinary tract at the same time. In herbal therapy, the remedies made from the chicory are used to treat various rheumatic complaints and disorders such as gout. The chicory also acts as a mild laxative herb, and is especially suited for treated children affected by constipation and other digestive disorders. Digestion is also aided by the infusion made from the leaves and flowers of the chicory.
Chicory is indigenous to Europe and originally grew only on that continent. Today, the chicory is also found in parts of North Africa and Western Asian countries. The preferred site of the chicory is along foot paths and on roadsides, on river banks, and along dry fields or fallow land. Chicory roots are dug up and collected during the fall or in the spring.
While the chicory plant is a hardy plant, it grows best in sites with good exposure to sunlight. The chicory grows well in most moderately fertile and well drained soils that can retain some moisture. The pH range that is tolerated by the chicory is from an acidic 4.5 to an alkaline 8.3. In the wild, the chicory grows well on any type of soil; however, the plant may be more demanding when cultivated. Cultivated chicory plants are best grown on mellow and deeply tilled soils - soils should ideally be fertile or composed mainly of sandy loam to get a good crop. The chicory is a cool weather plant, and is capable of tolerating moderately high temperatures in the summer. The plant also requires a well distributed rainfall pattern to grow well - harsh tropical rains can destroy crops. The soil must also have good drainage or alternately, be given some irrigation in drier sites. Once sown in a suitable site, the chicory gives off deep roots in a relatively short period of time. Chicory cannot be grown on soils that are too wet for beans and small grains - soils that are not suitable for these plants will also not be suitable to grow the chicory. Proper root growth can be ensured by the application of lime or marl to acidic soils, this mineral addition will neutralize the acidity. The plant also grows best in areas with an annual rainfall range of 30 to 400 cm and an annual mean bio-temperature of 6° to 27°C. The leaves of the chicory can be used to prepare a delicious winter salad. In Europe, the main reason for the cultivation of the chicory is to get the edible leaves and for the roots - dried, roasted and powdered chicory root is made into a coffee substitute. Chicory comes in many named varieties - each variety has particular characteristics. Fresh chicory leaves can be obtained for the kitchen year round by carefully choosing cultivars and sowing times in a year. Three main varieties of the chicory are grown especially for their leaves, and each of these varieties has many cultivar forms. In Europe, a bitter tasting and loose leafed form is grown for use as a green winter vegetable, this variety is particularly preferred in Southern Italy. The narrow leafed, witloof or Belgian form has a peculiar compact and elongated head or "chicon," this is usually blanched and used in preparing green salads or cooked as a dish. The normally red colored broad leaved form bears cabbage like hearts, this plant is normally less bitter in taste compared to the other forms and is consumed cooked or eaten raw. These three cultivars are often grown as a winter crop as they are mainly used in preparing winter salads. While the chicory plant is perennial, it is common practice to cultivate plants as an annual crop, particularly when they are only being grown for use in preparing winter salads and other dishes. The cultivars are normally sown in early summer if they are intended as a winter salad crop. Sowing in the early summer ensures that the plants will not flower in the first year of growth and will be fully mature at the time of the winter harvest. The sown plants usually form an over wintering rosette of leaves resembling a head of cabbage by late fall. The leaves in the rosette may be collected if needed during the first winter and most of the plants will usually give off some new growth - provided the winter is not extremely cold - which can eventually be harvested late in the winter or in the early spring of the new year. In the summer of the new year, these plants will normally run to flower and most will fail to produce an over wintering rosette of leaves for the following winter - all the plants must be harvested at this point. The chicory is not a fussy plant and can be successfully grown in a meadow. The chicory can also be grown on a lawn as long as the grass in the lawn is only trimmed occasionally and not too short. When the conditions at a site are ideal, the chicory will often self sow freely, this is especially likely to occur in plants grown in a dry alkaline soil. The chicory is attractive to bees and the plant is valuable to apiarist. The chicory is also used as an ornamental plant. Chicory flowers open up early in the morning and close up around noon.
The chicory is propagated using the seeds stored from previous crops. These seeds can be sown directly on prepared seed beds or grown in situ as cultivars for their roots which appear in summer - usually around May or June of the planting year. When the cultivars are grown mainly to harvest the edible leaves - they may be sown during the month of April to get a summer crop or they can be sown around June-July to get a winter crop. Cultivars of chicory can be sow in situ or in pots - once the cultivars grow large enough, they must be planted out in the permanent site.
The root contains up to 58% intilin and sesquiterpene lactones, as well as vitamins and minerals.
A delicious green salad can be made from the tender young chicory leaves. The tender leaves can also be made into a herbal decoction, used in the treatment of sensitive intestines. This decoction also helps in cleansing the blood and in detoxifying the gallbladder - this decoction can also be used in treating cases of jaundice as well. The beneficial compounds and most of the active principles are contained in the roots of the chicory plant. An herbal decoction is prepared from the fresh roots. The roots are also dried or roasted and used in treating diabetes and problems such as water retention in the body - this remedy is prepared by mixing one teaspoon of the powdered root in 250 ml water. A hybrid variety of the chicory Cichorium endivia - is cultivated for its roots which are forced to produce endives. The endives so obtained can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked as a dish. The endives possess a rather bitter taste; they also have a watery consistency and are for this reason quite potent as a diuretic herbal medicine.
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