Wild Chicory – Chicorée sauvage
Wild Chicory, in summer, is a very common plant here in Provence and very easily recognisable with its bright blue flower-heads. It is sometimes slightly hairy with branched stems, height 30-100 cm. The basal leaves in rosette form, are pinnately-lobed and make you think of a Dandelion, but they are deep green in colour; the upper leaves are lanceolate, sometimes toothed, clasping the stem. The flowers have two layers of florets, the inner ones larger than the outer ones. From the Wild Chicory, three forms have been cultivated as salad leaves: Radicchio, very popular in Italy with reddish and white leaves; Sugarloaf, a type of lettuce similar to Cos lettuce; Belgian endive or witloof with cream and yellow coloured leaves. The root of cultivated chicory (Cichorum intybus var. sativum) has been developed to form a thick root. During periods of economic crisis like the ‘Great Depression of 1930’ and ‘World War II’ it was used, and still is, as a coffee substitute.
In the 1970’s it was discovered that the roots contain 20% inulin and oligo fructose. Inulin is a natural roughage that passes through the digestive system hardly being digested. Oligo fructose is a sugar substitute. Inulin as well as oligo fructose play a role in the cultivation of the bifidus bacteria.
Wild Chicory has a tonic effect on the liver and gall bladder. It is lightly diuretic and a laxative; it cleans the liver, spleen and kidneys. Internally, it is a remedy for liver complaints, rheumatism, gout and haemorrhoids.
Wild young chicory leaves are bitter. They are used in the cuisines of many southern European countries; in Italy, in the Liguria and Puglia, the leaves are combined with broad bean purée. In Albania they are used as a spinach substitute, simmered in olive oil. By cooking and discarding the water, the bitterness is reduced, it can then be sautéed with garlic, anchovies or other ingredients. This goes well mixed into pasta or with meat.
Bibliography: Cichorium intybus – Wikipedia; Voedingsleer – Cichorium intybus – Ir. J. Lambrechts; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses – Deni Bown; Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Mediterranean Wild Flowers – Marjorie Blamey/Christopher Grey-Wilson.