White Chicory

Last year, I posted a great deal about the vegetation in my yard—what’s edible, what’s not, and all the medicinal uses for the plants I found growing here. I have three varieties of dock that to me taste better than turnips or collards, dandelions, jewelweed, Joe Pye weed, knotweed, goldenrod, and plantain, to name a few.

What I didn’t post much about was chicory. My front parking area is covered with the stuff. Chicory is a bitter agent that has been used for centuries as a digestive aid. Its leaves can be added to salad, and its root can be ground and baked as a coffee additive. Chicory has, in fact, been used as a substitute for coffee for as long as it’s been used as a medicinal supplement. Early American lore is filled with anecdotes about chicory coffee. It’s still sold commercially around the world as a flavor additive and specialty item.

Chicory has a very distinctive flavor. Bitter, yes. I’d go so far as call it acrid. Some of this is mitigated by roasting at a relatively high heat. The components of chicory responsible for its bitter taste are both lactones: lactucin and lactucopicrin. However, the substance chicory is primarily harvested for is inulin. Chicory root can contain as much as 20% inulin, which is used as an artificial sweetener, a prebiotic, and a source of soluble fiber.

All of this information about chicory interests me. However, the reason I’m posting about it has little to do with all its uses. This week, I found white chicory growing in my yard. While white or even pink flowers do occur, they are rare. Chicory is known for its vibrant cornflower blue blooms, which are single rather than clustered, and close tightly after only a few hours to never reopen again. Thankfully, new flowers open the next morning, but they, too, survive for only one day.

The white blooms, though—such an interesting find! And not just one plant, but several, scattered around a specific spot in the yard. For me, this was a thrill! I love the flora and fauna on our seven acres, especially when I chance upon something I have never seen before. It makes me remember why I enjoy being close to nature, and why I don’t mind at all that my yard looks more unkempt than my neighbors’. They don’t have white chicory growing wild and beautiful just a few steps from their door. But I do, and I love it!