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If You See This Plant in Your Backyard, Don’t Step on It

If You See This Plant in Your Backyard, Don’t Step on It

Every gardener has had that moment when you come across a new plant that has sprung up from seemingly nowhere, and you’re not sure whether to pull out the suspected weed while it’s still at a manageable stage, or nurture it as a welcome addition to your backyard.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is one of these plants that many people assume is a weed, but in fact is one of the many herbs that are valued for its therapeutic and medicinal properties.

The bright blue flowers of chicory look fantastic in the garden, and it’s definitely a worthy herb to have on hand. It has numerous medicinal uses, it brings out the flavor of coffee, it makes a good livestock feed, it is used to make colorfast dyes and it’s a popular culinary herb.

How to Identify ItIf You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On It

The bright blue flowers are the easiest way to identify chicory. The tips of the petals are toothed, which makes it look a little bit like a blue dandelion. It even has a similar number of petals – around 20. The flowers open early in the morning, and close again by lunchtime.

When it first emerges, the leaves form a flat rosette, just like a dandelion, however, it has a much taller, tougher stem (up to 3 feet), which is multibranched, hairy and holds a number of flowers, along with a few small leaves. It can also be distinguished by the white milky sap from the stems and leaves.

This perennial herb has a thin taproot, which allows it to re-shoot rapidly. You may stumble across this herb growing in your garden as a result of ants collecting and moving its seed around, but unlike dandelions, it doesn’t use wind as a means of seed dispersal.

Harvesting Instructions

Harvesting chicory is a matter of cutting the tall stems a few inches above the ground with a pair of pruning shears, and leaving the taproot to re-sprout and produce more flowers. You can usually get a second harvest from them, and in a good year, three. This is one reason why chicory is suitable for making fresh fodder for animals.

The root typically has a higher concentration of some of the medicinal compounds, and it is possible to dig up half the taproot, and the remaining half might still re-shoot and regenerate.If You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On It

Historical Medicinal Uses

Chicory has been used medicinally across Europe since the Middle Ages. During the renaissance period, it was thought that the healing power of a plant was based on what it looked like. For example, because chicory has a milky, white sap, this apparently meant it could increase or decrease the amount of breast milk produced by mothers; its closed flowers meant it could treat infected eyes; bruises could be treated with its bruised leaves, and so on.

Suffice to say, that this method of assigning medicinal qualities based on observed physical traits was generally inaccurate (although quite amusing and interesting now). Some cultures claimed that it could make you invisible.

On the other hand, it was accurately touted as a ‘friend of the liver’ back in 200 A.D, and has been made into a popular liver tonic ever since then. People suffering from a toothache were made to chew on the bitter leaves or roots to alleviate the pain and swelling.

Modern Medicinal UsesIf You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On It

Luckily, modern studies have investigated the medicinal value of chicory. Just like many other plants, the bitter taste of chicory has been found to increase the amount of bile produced by the liver, and therefore, it can aid digestion, and possibly treat kidney stones, gallstones and various other liver ailments (so it really is a ‘friend of the liver’).

The white sap found throughout the whole plant contains lactucarium. This is a similar compound to opium, but much milder and safer. It’s lactucarium that gives chicory its mild sedative and anti-inflammatory properties, and which provides pain relief. It has been found to be as effective as other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen pain killers.If You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On ItStudies have also found the roots to be high in anti-oxidants and have strong anti-bacterial properties. Chicory roots can also decrease blood pressure by expanding blood vessel walls. As a diuretic, it stimulates the production of urine, which therefore assists the kidneys to remove toxins and excess fluids. This increase in urination leads to the removal of uric acid and excess fluids, which can subsequently treat arthritis, gout and urinary tract infections.

Chicory can reduce the severity of allergic reactions by inhibiting the production of histamines.

Although quite small, chicory root is a surprising source of fiber. It consists of 16% inulin, which is a soluble type of fiber that is associated with improving the health of the entire intestinal track, as well as responsible for producing a mild laxative and sedative effect. It is surprisingly common in gluten-free and high fiber products, and when processed, inulin takes on a slightly sweet taste which can also be used as a natural sweetener.

Research has also identified some compounds in chicory that can kill the malaria parasite and mosquito larvae.

How to Use Chicory as MedicineIf You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On It

The easiest way to use chicory is to ingest it. The leaves add flavor to a salad, and both the leaves and roots make a nice addition to pickling recipes, and go well in a roast, although some of the compounds and nutrients degrade when cooked.

A poultice can be made quickly by crushing or grinding a fresh plant and binding it to any sore joints or muscles. Or you can prepare a tincture or salve to have on hand in the medicine draw at home to massage into tired, aching muscles.

Having some dried chicory tucked away in a cupboard means you can brew some chicory tea anytime. The tea should be brewed for at least 5 minutes. Otherwise you can grind up roasted roots to either add to your coffee, or to substitute your coffee for a caffeine-free drink.

Something You Must KnowIf You See This Plant In Your Backyard, Don’t Step On It

Studies have shown chicory to be reasonably effective at decreasing blood sugar levels, so people with diabetes need to be cautious when ingesting this herb.

Since this is yet another plant from the daisy family (Asteraceae), then anyone who is allergic to ragwort, daisies or marigolds should avoid growing, handling or consuming chicory.

Chicory can stimulate the uterus and cause miscarriage, so shouldn’t be eaten when pregnant.

The white sap of chicory can cause an irritation in people with very sensitive skin, but most people don’t have any issues handling it.

So, if you see chicory sprouting in your backyard, don’t be too hasty to rip it out and throw it in the compost pile with the rest of the weeds. It could turn out to be your next medicine, meal, drink, animal feed or dye.

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32 Comments

  • Amy Harwood Posted August 3, 2020 2:05 pm

    Could you please tell me if chicory is the same plant that we call bachelors button in the East?

    • Camille Mitchell Posted August 3, 2020 3:41 pm

      We have this growing wild here on the West coast. We call it Bachelor Button (AKA Chicory) I would like to know if this is the same also

      • Adria Appleby Posted August 3, 2020 6:54 pm

        Yes it is

      • Akisha Posted December 22, 2020 7:26 pm

        There is an app called PictureThis. I use it to help identify plants.

      • Althea Stockton Posted January 4, 2021 4:53 pm

        No. Bachelor Button and Chicory are two different plants.

    • Adria Appleby Posted August 3, 2020 6:55 pm

      Yes its the same

    • Larry Yarger Posted November 15, 2020 12:04 pm

      No, bachelor’s buttons is a Centaurea species and chicory is Cicorium. Chicory is perennial and BB is annual. Chicory has blue and occasionally white flowers; BB has blue, rose and white colored blossoms.

    • Stephen P O’Connell Posted December 1, 2020 12:33 am

      no it is not the same , i am a beekeeper and know a little bit about some flowering plants

  • Rich Everson Posted August 3, 2020 3:08 pm

    Excellent info.

    • Corinne Posted August 7, 2020 11:41 am

      Hi Rich,

      Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

      God bless!

  • Cindy S Posted August 3, 2020 4:06 pm

    Would appreciate including where it’s grown. I’m in central Texas, super SUPER hot in the summers. Does it grow everywhere, i.e. shade? full sun? wooded areas? thanks so much for all this good info.

    • Ashley Posted August 3, 2020 6:44 pm

      It grows mostly in full sun! It loves the side of the road usually in a graveled area.

    • Lorri Posted March 22, 2021 2:06 am

      I’ve spent most of my life in different parts of Texas and never saw a chicory plant until I went to Wisconsin, where they grow wild on the roadside.
      They are quite lovely.

  • Sachele Winn Posted August 3, 2020 4:56 pm

    I found an article full of information on how to distinguish chicory. By Janet Hardy.
    “Bachelor’s button, which is also called cornflower, is Centaurea cyanus. Another blue-flowered plant called cornflower is Cichorium intybus, which is also called chicory. To further confuse the matter, the common name “chicory” also is used for curly endive (Cichorium endivia).”

  • Debra Posted August 3, 2020 8:31 pm

    Sachelle is correct: botanically, bachelor’s button and true chicory are NOT the same plant. This is why horticulturalists use the Latin names and not the common names of plants. Centarea flowers have pointed petal tips, not toothed, and the stems are thinner and smooth. Here’s a pic of Centaurea (bachelor’s button) flowers. https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQe3iMXR-oRh-1LtGwAJ0IHSloWJRHWnoLc0i5kHoMxoA&s

    • cheri Posted August 10, 2020 6:38 am

      thanks for clarifying that. I have been calling something else ‘Bachelor’s buttons’, not this one. I have never seen this one in my life! wish I had it. Is this called ‘wild lettuce’ sometimes?

  • Jim Posted August 3, 2020 11:17 pm

    What areas of the country would have this

    • The Lost Herbs Posted August 14, 2020 11:05 am

      Hi Jim,

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      Chicory, (Cichorium intybus), blue-flowered perennial plant of the family Asteraceae. Native to Europe and introduced into the United States late in the 19th century, chicory is cultivated extensively in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany and to some extent in North America.

      God bless!

    • Elizabeth Schneider Posted December 24, 2020 3:08 pm

      I have tons of chicory growing on the berm of the road. It is so pretty when the plant opens. It is considered a problematic weed here in the manicured poison laded lawns!
      I live in northeastern Ohio.

  • Lutvija Hrnjic Posted August 4, 2020 1:58 am

    My radicchio, endive and escarole are all blooming with those gorgeous flowers. Do their roots have any medicinal properties?

  • The Lost Herbs Posted August 14, 2020 11:09 am

    Hi Lutvija,

    Thank you so much for your comment.

    Chicory root is a good source of inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that has been linked to increased weight loss and improved gut health. It also contains some manganese and vitamin B6, two nutrients tied to brain health.

    God bless!

  • The Lost Herbs Posted October 23, 2020 6:30 am

    Hi Florestine,

    Thank you for your comment.
    Please check your email address. We have sent you an email regarding your order.

    God bless!

  • Trish Bright Posted November 17, 2020 6:28 pm

    Thank you for this! I’ve gathered the leaves in the spring thinking they were dandelions – until it bloomed. Then I started digging them out. I won’t do that anymore. ☺️
    It is said that weeds are plants with a bad reputation. Time to change that!

  • George Lala Posted November 19, 2020 11:46 pm

    Thank you for letting know about this medicinal plant Chicory. I have too many health problems. Is it possible to communicate with Nicole, whose book we just bought. Also Is there any way we can get the medicines made from these plants.
    Will be grateful if you would respond. Thanks a billion
    George

  • Shukria Posted November 20, 2020 6:27 am

    Do you crush the leaves, or both the leaves and the flower? Do you wait til it dries? I want to use as a tea for back pain/inflammation and to lower blood pressure.

    • The Lost Herbs Posted November 24, 2020 11:19 am

      Hi Shukria,

      Chicory tea is prepared by steeping one-ounce of dried chicory root in a pint of boiling water for 10 minutes.

      As soon as possible after harvesting, you can prepare the chicory root for drying.
      Rinse all the soil off the roots and either grind them or, just chop them into tiny pieces with a knife. The smaller the pieces the better.
      Roasting the root is what brings out the nutty flavor so throw those pieces in the oven for an hour and a half at 350 F, or until the root looks nice and dark.

      The beverage is very bitter on its own, so you may want to mix it with sugar or honey.

      God bless!

  • Trisha Posted December 26, 2020 5:10 am

    What a bummer it’s in the Daisy family. I’ve learned that I’m allergic to this family of plants and react to any tincture, supplement, etc that includes them. Many helpful “multi” supplements contain plants from the Asteracae family, so sad for me. I wish somethings would help tone down my allergies to them so I could utilize them as well.

    • Liberty Posted February 2, 2021 11:21 am

      Research nettle tea – it might be an option

  • JOHN HUGH BEYERLEIN Posted December 30, 2020 1:23 pm

    GOD BLES YOU MANY TIMES OVER-!!!
    THAT’s ALL FOR NOW. NOTHING MORE. NOTHING LESS. THAT’s ALL.
    SINCERELY YOURS, JOHN

  • Eva Sloan Posted January 4, 2021 6:13 am

    I am new at this but am thinking of studying more about it. What books should I read?

    • The Lost Herbs Posted January 4, 2021 6:56 am

      Hi Eva,

      Thank you for your interest in our work.
      You’ll find 800+ beneficial plants and remedies in “The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies” – recipes of tinctures, teas, decoctions, essential oils, syrups, salves, poultices, infusions and many other natural remedies that our grandparents used for centuries. What’s also special about this book is that it has between 2 and 4 high definition, color pictures for each plant and detailed identification guidelines to make sure you’ve got the right plant.
      You’ll also find a Medicinal Reference Guide inside where you can look up an ailment and see what herbs are used for it (and what page they are on). Plus, it has a very thorough appendix, making it easy for you to find any plant or ailment you’re interested in.

      God bless!

  • HollyHocks and Sun Flowers Posted January 6, 2021 1:33 am

    I have this every year, but white to yellow flowers. Looks like a huge dandelion or weed. I mean huge, like 6 feet. The comments have left me more confused. Mine definitely not blue.

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