This fall, if you cast your eye to the country roadside while driving, you may catch glimpses of something periwinkle in the browning grass.
You have spotted chicory! With its papery, faded blue flowers that are growing on long green stalks, Chicory was introduced to the States in the 1700’s. Native to the Mediterranean, chicory easily adapted to Ohio and other areas in North America. Considering that chicory is a close relative of dandelions and daisies, it is not much of a surprise that it is so widespread! But, unlike many naturalized exotic species that may be considered invasive, chicory is a welcome guest to the landscape of Ohio.
Like most, but not all, of its relatives in the Sunflower family, chicory is fully edible. Unfortunately, like the dandelion, the wild-growing chicory you encounter on nature walks may be too bitter and tough to be palatable. Luckily, you can easily buy cultivated versions of chicory in your neighborhood Kroger; endive and radicchio are its bitter, yet tender-leafed forms.
You may also find chicory in the health section of groceries, as chicory root is a popular alternative to ground coffee. Those who enjoy it claim its smooth, almost chocolate taste is a wonderful substitute to coffee, and also value the drink for its decaffeinated purposes, as well as its naturally-occurring, tasteless fiber properties.
Chicory is touted as a cardio friendly alternative to coffee, since it reduces LDL cholesterol and does not raise blood pressure after you drink it. I sometimes have a cup of chicory before bed when I want the taste of coffee without the caffeine. The difference is slight, and any coffee lover interested in expanding their horizon may want to consider buying some chicory coffee to try.
Chicory flowers are lovely because they persist for a very long time. They start blooming in early June, and they thrive right through September. Their wispy flowers are a lovely thing to catch, when everything else has long dried up in the summer heat.
Chicory flowers are quite dry and can easily be made into a wreath, bouquet. Consider making a composition of pretty, golden autumn grasses, a few sprays of chicory, and a few marigolds, for a long-lasting accent to your home.