Back in 2010, I was enjoying an early morning run in Greenpoint when I noticed some Chicory flowers and pulled them to put in a vase. It was the morning after a good rain, when the soil was loose, which allowed me to get a nice root out. I went home and ate the root with my lovely woman and decided to write a small article about this old-fashioned American food that we have forgotten about.
Chicory has leaves similar to that of dandelion. Unlike dandelion, it grows in 1-2 foot stalks with beautiful, blue flowers. On the right, you can see the composition of Chicory on our wall. The bottom picture shows the long, dark root. You can also see the dandelion-like leaves.
A warming tea can be made from its root. During the early 20th century, when coffee was very expensive, Americans would mix roasted chicory root with coffee to make the coffee last longer. You can chop the root and roast it for about 10 minutes in the oven, along with dandelion root, and boil it on the stove to make a delicious coffee-substitute. It is warming, aids with digestion, and is very cleansing for the liver.
Chicory root tastes much like burdock root. Roots are particularly good for our health because of their ability to reach deep within the Earth and absorb minerals, vitamins, and enzymes from the soil. They are a storehouse of these nutrients. Because they have transformed the once inorganic minerals (literally rocks) into easily absorbed organic minerals, they are our best source of these vital nutrients. Minerals, specifically sodium and calcium, are our bodies primary sources to buffer acidity. A lack of these minerals can cause everything from osteoporosis to heart disease. Actually, any inflammatory condition can be linked to acidity, which results in a mineral deficiency.
I'm often asked "Can't I just take a mineral supplement?". You certainly can, but it won't be nearly as effective as eating whole organic vegetables, fruits, and chicory roots. This is because the way minerals are bonded. Inorganic minerals are rocks and other substances found in the Earth's soil that are nearly impossible for humans to digest and breakdown. Organic minerals, on the other hand, are easily assimilated in our bodies because their bonds are easily broken. Plants turn inorganic minerals into organic minerals. Yet another reason why our diet should be mostly, or completely, plant-based.
Another amazing benefit from Chicory is its prebiotic abilities. We have all been told how important probiotics and good bacterias are for our bodies. In fact, our bodies are made of more bacteria than they are cells. How much more? Try about ten times more! This is a key discovery to understanding the dangers of sterilizing, washing, and pasteurizing everything. Prebiotics are special fibers that feed the good bacteria in our guts. Chicory contains oligofructose and inuin, two fibers that act as prebiotics. The intake of these fibers has been clinically proven to increase the body's ability to better absorb minerals - especially calcium. The dietary fiber from organic vegetables, fruits, and roots keeps the colon clean, healthy, and lowers the risk of developing cancer in that organ. I'll explain more about that in another article. My main point here is that a mineral supplement certainly cannot boast the dietary fiber, prebiotics, easily absorbable organic mineral content, or the beauty that our humble chicory root offers - and for free!
Take advantage of Mother Earth's benevolence! I guarantee chicory is growing near you and awaiting for you to enjoy it. These plants are here to heal us - they want to be harvested. For those of you living in an industrial society, especially us in New York City, be very aware of the soil that the chicory is growing in. Do not eat any plants that are growing near industrial waste sites, or sites that have a history of contamination.
For more about prebiotics, visit Dr. Frank Jackson's website here. Dr. Jackson is a gastroenterologist that has developed a natural, whole food supplement called "Prebiotin". It is made from chicory root and is a concentration of the inulin and oligofructose fibers. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him last week. Though he has developed this supplement, he himself agrees that it is not enough to keep a person healthy. One must ingest organic whole fruits and vegetables on a regular basis to keep the body healthy.
I will leave you with a lovely poem, written by John Updike, about our beloved herb. I think it explains this herb better than I could. It is titled, most appropriately, "Chicory".
Show me a piece of land that God forgot--
a strip between an unused sidewalk, say,
and a bulldozed lot, rich in broken glass--
and there, July on, will be chicory,
its leggy hollow stems staggering skyward,
its leaves rough-hairy and lanceolate,
like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear,
its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue.
How good of it to risk the roadside fumes,
the oil-soaked heat reflected from asphalt,
and wretched earth dun-colored like cement,
too packed for any other seed to probe.
It sends a deep taproot (delicious, boiled),
is relished by all livestock, lends its leaves
to salads and cooked greens, but will not thrive
in cultivated soil: it must be free.
- John Updike