Cichorium intybus L. is a perennial herb of the aster family with blue cornflower-like flowers. It is widespread in meadows, wasteland and along roadsides in the European part of Russia, Siberia and Central Asia.
It is a clock plant, sensitive to a drop in light. In the morning, under the bright sun, the sky-blue baskets of chicory are fully open, but as the day turns to evening, they seem to disappear without a trace. Even if you don’t have a clock, you can be sure it’s around 5pm. On cloudy days, the flowers are closed.
Since ancient times, chicory has been used in folk medicine to make infusions, decoctions, teas and decoctions – because the plant stores a whole range of useful substances for the treatment of many diseases, and also helps to cleanse the body of toxins and poisons, filling it with strength, energy and beauty.
Chicory has a recognised medicinal value, which means that preparations made from it have been approved by modern medicine. The herb, roots and seeds, extracts and essences are used to treat spleen, bladder, stomach, some kidney, liver and intestinal disorders, as well as to treat and manage the effects of nervous stress and epileptic seizures – as a powerful sedative.
An excellent source of vitamins and minerals
According to the US Department of Agriculture, chicory is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, manganese, calcium, iron, folic acid, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K. Thanks to these, the drink has antioxidant properties and helps to strengthen cell membranes and produce immune cells.
100 g of raw chicory roots contain:
- Protein: 1.4 g
- Dietary fibre: 1.5 g
- Sugar: 8.73 g
- Calcium: 41 mg
- Iron: 0.8 mg
- Magnesium: 22 mg
- Phosphorus: 61 mg
- Potassium: 290 mg
- Sodium: 50 mg
- Zinc: 0.33 mg
- Copper: 0.08 mg
- Manganese: 0.23 mg
- Selenium: 0.7 mg
- Vitamin C: 5 mg
- Folic acid: 23 mcg
- Vitamin A: 6 IU
The most valuable component of chicory root is inulin, a substance that has a beneficial effect on the intestinal microbiome, helping to normalise carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.
The microbiome is a community of microorganisms that inhabit a particular habitat, in this case the human gut.
The microbiome is mainly made up of bacteria, but also includes fungi, viruses and primitive bacteria. Experts estimate that our gut contains around 2-3kg of bacteria.
Other therapeutic properties of chicory
Research has also shown that regular consumption of chicory can help in the fight against diabetes. The effect is achieved by increasing the concentration of the enzyme adiponectin, which lowers blood sugar levels.
The polyphenol contained in chicory helps to reduce inflammation. Thanks to this substance, the consumption of chicory can alleviate the symptoms of arthritis or help with intestinal disorders.
The diuretic properties of this plant are beneficial for kidney and urinary system health. By speeding up the elimination of toxins in the urine, chicory cleanses the kidneys and reduces the risk of kidney stones. Chicory is also good for the liver, helping to cleanse it of the waste products of alcohol and drugs.
The decoction of chicory roots has always been considered one of the best remedies for improving appetite and normalising the work of the pancreas. Chicory also helps to dissolve gallstones, has a choleretic effect and increases blood flow and metabolic processes in the liver.
Chicory inulin is a bifidostimulant, i.e. it promotes the development of beneficial intestinal microflora, which strengthens the body’s overall immunity. Other trace elements in chicory help to reduce inflammation of the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines. This is why chicory is widely used in the prevention and treatment of stomach and duodenal ulcers, gastritis, dysbacteriosis, dyspepsia, constipation, liver and gallbladder diseases.
Chicory root contains essential oils that are an excellent remedy for getting rid of internal parasites. A drink of chicory root also cleanses the blood vessels and blood of harmful impurities, reduces the absorption of cholesterol and fats, removes toxins and contributes to weight loss.
As a wound-healing agent, infusions, decoctions and alcoholic tinctures of the roots are used, they are also effective in the treatment of seborrhoea, allergic dermatitis, neurodermatitis, diathesis, eczema, psoriasis, acne, furunculosis.
Chicory has a beneficial effect on the thyroid gland – it is the best drink for diabetics and it is impossible to find a better drink, because chicory is able to replace sugar and starch, and the presence of inulin in chicory effectively prevents the absorption of excess sugar.
Chicory has a calming effect on the human nervous system due to its B vitamins. These vitamins are ‘responsible’ for good mood, sound sleep, energy and vitality.
Chicory is also rich in potassium, which is necessary for the normal functioning of the heart and helps to remove “bad” cholesterol from the blood, dilate blood vessels, increase the amplitude and normalise the rhythm of heart contractions.
In this respect, the use of chicory drink in the diet can benefit people suffering from atherosclerosis, tachycardia, coronary heart disease and other diseases of the cardiovascular system.
Despite the impressive list of beneficial properties of chicory drink, it is important to mention the possible negative consequences of its use. For example, using a chicory drink during a course of antibiotics increases the risk that the treatment will be ineffective. The components contained in the drink prevent the absorption of the drugs and cancel out the effect of the antibiotics.
Caution is advised for those with blood vessel problems. Varicose veins, weak capillary walls or hypotension are in most cases a contraindication to the use of chicory. The properties of chicory are such that it dilates the walls of blood vessels and capillaries, thus thinning the blood. It is therefore extremely useful for people with high blood pressure and thick blood, but it is completely contraindicated for people with weak vascular walls and reduced muscle tone.
Similarly, chicory should not be used by people suffering from urolithiasis of the kidneys. Despite its beneficial effect in preventing this disease, it is better to stop eating chicory when stones are detected.
Chicory is often used as a caffeine-free and healthy alternative to coffee
It was first prepared as a natural coffee substitute by the German gardener Timme, shortly after the Prussian King Frederick II imposed a high duty on coffee, making it incredibly expensive.
In fact, the chicory drink is very similar to coffee in colour and taste – with a pleasant bitterness. This is mainly due to the unique polysaccharide inulin. A great coffee alternative! This healing drink contains 4% plant protein (not found in coffee), tannins and organic acids, vitamins C, B2, B1, carotene (provitamin A) and potassium salts. Inulin also acts as a sugar substitute, which is important for diabetics.
No coffee substitute is healthier than chicory. It does not contain caffeine, so it does not raise blood pressure or cause tachycardia. However, it has a beneficial effect on the stomach (relieves constipation and other disorders, relieves heartburn), cleanses the body of toxins, increases the number of red blood cells in the blood and helps to speed up the restoration of collagen fibres.
Incidentally, the effect of chicory root is similar to that of dandelion root, which is why these components are often mixed – including in the preparation of natural herbal coffee.
How many times a day can you drink chicory?
There are no formal rules on this. It is usually recommended to limit it to 3-5 g per day. It is best to drink chicory with milk: the drink cleanses the body effectively.
If you buy chicory in a shop, make sure that it is a 100% extract of the plant, with no additives. Good quality powder does not contain sticky pieces or lumps.
Due to its high content of active substances, chicory is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers: it can cause a severe allergy in the baby. Chicory can also be harmful to people suffering from varicose veins, haemorrhoids and some other diseases. You should therefore consult your doctor before using it.
Growing chicory in the garden
More and more gardeners are sowing chicory in their gardens. In Europe, special varieties of chicory are grown for salads: their leaves are used to enrich fresh salads with vitamins and microelements and to enhance the flavour of dishes made from a mixture of herbs and vegetables. Young chicory sprouts are also roasted, stewed, boiled and baked in wine with apples and cheese.
Cultivated chicory retains all its nutrients and its roots are of good quality and give an excellent harvest. The plant is sown in rows at a distance of 40 cm and the soil is prepared in the autumn, six months before sowing, with organic and mineral fertilisers.
Prepared by Mary Clair