More blue for our future?

Right now it’s not one of the more common roadside plants in eastern Carolina. That might change in the next few years. If you take a drive north or west for any distance you’ll begin to see more of it. Its flowers look like blue daisies. They bloom only in the morning.

Wild chicory is a common perennial plant throughout much of our country and it’s plenty hardy here. It prefers relatively deep soils and tolerates dry conditions for moderate periods.

Sometimes called succory, particularly in Europe, it usually grows less than three feet tall and produces a long taproot similar to dandelion. Basal leaves also look a little like dandelion but have hairiness to them. Endive is its cultivated cousin.

Since many people eat endive it might be assumed chicory is edible as well. It is, but leaves are somewhat bitter even in young stages and the slight pubescence might turn one off if eaten raw. Some cultures appreciate the bitterness, but most Americans reject it. I like it slightly cooked with butter and salt. Beware of chemical residues on roadsides and other areas of heavy pesticide use.

Grazing animals find chicory quite palatable and that is why I predict you might see more of it in the future. Chicory has long been used as a forage crop for many reasons. In Europe and New Zealand it has become a major forage crop. Much of the breeding work for improved forage cultivars was completed in New Zealand.

Yields are high and cattle and sheep thrive on pastures containing chicory for several reasons. First of all, they like it and intake is good. Secondly, it is high in digestible nutrients and vitamins, especially vitamin A. Mineral concentrations are dense as well. Tannins and other chemicals in the leaves help control internal parasites too.

Domestic livestock production is not the main reason I expect to see more of it though. It has hit the hunting magazines and a hot new food plot crop. It establishes easily, is perennial and grows well in spring and summer. High mineral concentrations also support antler growth.

I suspect many hunting clubs will plant it more and that will facilitate its spread to our roadsides. That’s not all bad though. The flowers are beautiful and are even incorporated in some wildflower mixes already.

Does chicory have other uses? You bet! For generations it has been used as a coffee substitute and additive. Some even refer to chicory incorrectly as coffeeweed. True coffeeweed is a noxious plant called sicklepod that invades our crops.

Chicory roots are dug, cleaned, dried, ground and roasted. Many commercial coffee blends contain chicory. Although fresh roots are extremely bitter, when processed chicory lends a less bitter flavor to coffee. It also contains no caffeine and counteracts the effects of it.

Exciting research links chicory root to helping heal liver damage and treating breast, prostate, kidney and skin cancers. One side-effect is that chicory stimulates bile production, which could be problematic for those who form gallstones. Also, pregnant women should avoid too much of it. It promotes menstruation, which could cause a miscarriage.


Roadside chicory


Chicory flower



Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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23 Responses to More blue for our future?

  1. Why do some culture’s eat the chicory flower leafs if their so bitter?

  2. This artical makes me not want to drink coffee. Who would eat a flower? i thought flowers were just for decoration but i guess i was wrong. Its sad to here that it could cause a miscarrage if pregneat women eat tomuch.but on the other hand it is good that chicory flower can help help all kinds of cancer.

  3. zachvanett says:

    I really like the fact that it is edible but how are you suppose to be able to tell if there is chemicals on it?

  4. seankathryn says:

    i wonder how it heals liver damage, prostate, kidney and skin cancer?

  5. amanda wensel says:

    What is it about this simple flower that makes it so unique? like being able to help heal the body from certain illnesses.

    • tedmanzer says:

      Part of the reason is a chemical called inulin. There are several forms of it. There are several other complex organic compounds that also contribute to its helpful effects. It’s also possible that the combination of several chemicals may contribute to the results. Many herbs have been used for centuries without concrete knowledge of chemical action. Truthfully, research is in its infancy with many of our holistic remedies.

  6. i feel that this flower is very beautiful but yet very useful

  7. donnashawna says:

    This type of flower is very beauiful and diffrent because you can eat this type of flower and it look just like a daisie but it is blue

  8. Wow. It’s amazing how the root of this plant can help heal liver damage, breast, prostate, kidney and skin cancer.

  9. I definetely think that farmers will use more of this in the future seeing on how helpful and nutritious it is for the animals that graze.

  10. Wild chicory is very useful for not only humans but animals as well. It can help prevent illnesses in humans and has lots of nutrients and vitamins that can be useful for animals. Many hunters will probably plant more of this type of flower because it grows well during summer and spring, and it also attracts animals and supports antler growth. What i wonder is how it helps antlers grow, and how much the animal must eat in order to grow them?

  11. I think its great that simple flowers like this one could heal things like cancer! its just amazing wondering what eles this, or other plants could do to help us in the future!

  12. wow i never thought that a normal flower like this do all that

  13. i dont understand why other cultures eat it if it tatse bad and i like that it can hep people with cancer

  14. cjbvans says:

    Don’t believe I have ever seen this plant before. Didn’t know that it can be put in coffee wouldn’t mind to try it.

  15. awhitenhs12 says:

    How does it heal damage to the liver, kidney and prostate?

  16. you’d never think that i simple little flower could do so much. i thinks its good that it can heel the human body.

  17. Thats cool that such a small thing can do alot of good.

  18. I love the fact that it can be used as a coffee substitue.

  19. It Looks alot like a daisy, but it is very useful in helping heal diseases such as liver and skin cancer.

  20. sbright16 says:

    I like how it’s used to reduce skin and liver cancer .

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