Here is a spindly wild plant that needs a closer look to be appreciated. It is Chicory or Succory (Cichorium intybus). The Dutch nation seems to love to eat the leaf heads of a cultivated & blanched version of this plant, called Witloof. Wild Chicory is best known for its tasty bitter roots which can be roasted and ground to produce a useful though non medicinal, substitute (or addition to) coffee. The young leaves of Wild Chicory (scroll through link for photo) are very tasty, not dissimilar to Dandelion and favoured by some bitter-leaf connoisseurs, for their more delicate flavour. They are rich in bone strengthening Calcium and Magnesium and may be eaten raw in salads through most of the year, or gently cooked. The green leaves, grown in open light, are far more bitter than their blanched sisters. To blanch a plant such as this it must be grown in complete darkness for a season. It is also simple to make a vinegar from Chicory roots and leaves, please see Susun Weed but where I live, there is not enough of this plant to harvest any roots.
To harvest the root, the hardy perennial plant must die and that is not reasonable here but by pot-growing your own, on a balcony (or in your work locker as my friend Micheal used to do at De Hortus) you may be able to produce a tasty and unusual crop for personal use.
Apart from being something of a bitter delicacy, Chicory was historically prised as a non-irritatant laxative, suitable for children when prepared as a syrup or similar. It is also a diuretic and a tonic herb, rather like Dandelion. Being strongly bitter, it acts as a Liver strengthening tonic. The flowers were used historically to make an anti inflammatory eye wash. All parts of the plant are edible and generally seen as safe but historical texts point to over consumption causing unusual side effects such as congesting the blood supply of digestive organs and depleting the power of the retina. They also saw it as unsuitable for people with easily depleated energy. Some modern herbals also point out that Chicory root is an emmenagogue, so it is best avoided during pregnancy.
This Frankendael plant is preparing to flower at the moment and what beautiful blue flowers they will be! I hope to save some of it’s seeds, if the plant is left undisturbed long enough for them to ripen and sow then next spring.
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