Cichorium intybus (Chicory)

Paracelsus, the alchemist from the 17th century said that after seven years, the chicory plant turns into a bird. A tall, straggly plant in the Asteraceace family, chicory flowers vary from blue to lavender, while some are white and pink. We see chicory flowers as blue because the flower petals reject and reflect the blue part of the light spectrum. Blue flowers occur in only 10% of the 300,000 flowering species, and the color blue is rare across diverse species, even though broad expanses of water and sky appear blue. Yet blue is highly visible to pollinators. Blue flowers have a rare, complex molecule that can absorb very small amounts of energy. Discovered only recently is the intriguing notion that ancient humans could not see the color blue, and did not have a word for blue. A tribe in Namibia whose language has no word for blue was tested with color charts, and most had trouble recognizing blue.

Chicory is a clock plant, whose flowers open and close by the sun’s positions. Magically, chicory correlates to air, the sun and masculinity, and has been used to time travel or to alter time. Chicory is perennial and the leaves are edible. When boiled, the roots are tasty with butter. Chicory root is ground, roasted, and added to coffee in New Orleans, called Creole coffee, with 70% coffee and 30% chicory. Chicory has been a coffee substitute and was drunk during WW2 when coffee was harder to obtain. The long tap root is 3-5 feet and lobed leaves around the base of the plant look like dandelion leaves. Endive and radicchio are different species within the chicory genus. In Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, he describes chicory as “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have.” He used the plant for animal fodder and as a table green. George Washington gave him the seeds.

Elizabeth Oriel 2022