Would you recognize chicory if you saw it?
You’ve probably seen this nutrient packed plant and not even known it. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll see just how important the health benefits of chicory are, and you’ll be able to recognize it.
Chicory is a blue flowered, woody weed that you’re going to want to pull out of your garden, and eat. Chicory can grow tall (up to 5’), and has strong roots. It is part of the sunflower family so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this weed thrives in the light. That’s why you’ll often see it in open fields. Between its height and distinct flowers, you shouldn’t have a problem picking out which plant is chicory.
The health benefits of chicory make this weed more of an asset than a pest. From leaf to root, this plant has many health properties that are good for your gut and your overall health.
While chicory isn’t native to North America, it was brought over from Europe in the late 19th century and can now be found across the continent.
Locally, you can find chicory along the side of most roads, and in many fields. While it seems great that this healthy plant is so readily available, you don’t want to get your chicory from the roadside. These areas are often sprayed with heavy chemicals and are exposed to many toxic chemicals from motor vehicles passing by.
On a similar note, chemical fertilizers and pesticides have been shown to reduce the amount of antioxidants found in the roots of the plants. Organic fertilizers had no such effect.
Here are the benefits you’ll find in chicory, from leaf to root.
Health Benefits of Chicory Leaves
Chicory leaves are a bitter leaf that adds fantastic flavour to a salad, or a mix of sautéed veggies, or however else you choose to implement them into your cooking. They’re also a good source of many nutrients.
Raw chicory greens are a good source of thiamin, niacin, and zinc. They’re also a great source of dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
Though all of the leaves are completely edible, the young leaves are the best for eating. They are less bitter and a less tough. The leaves look very similar to that of the dandelion plant, which makes sense as they are closely related.
While the leaves are incredibly healthy, they are packed with flavour, and some can be very bitter, so you’re going to want to use the leaves to accent, or enhance a dish, but not as the main ingredient. The flowers contain many of the same vitamins and are also edible, but are slightly bitter, so you may not want to eat too many at once, but they look beautiful on top of a salad.
With a long list of vitamins and minerals, you’re going to see many health benefits. One of these is that raw chicory greens are shown to increase insulin sensitivity. For that reason, chicory leaves could be a great dietary choice for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
The leaves (and roots) of wild chicory contain high levels of antioxidants, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory activity.
Health Benefits of Chicory Root
The list of vitamins and minerals in chicory root may seem underwhelming compared to the long list of nutrients in the plant’s leaves, but these roots have their very own special benefits. Chicory root is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese.
As already mentioned this is a fairly woody plant, and munching down on woody roots doesn’t seem appealing. I’ve never heard someone say that they love endlessly chewing on wood. However, cutting up and roasting the roots has proven to make this a much more ingestible part of this great plant.
Chicory root has been used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute for hundreds of years.
Repeated caffeine intake can lead to heightened cortisol levels, and higher stress levels. This is just one of the reasons people make the switch to a coffee substitute like chicory.
By taking the root of this plant, roasting it to golden brown, and then grinding it, and brewing it, you get a great coffee substitute. Chicory root coffee isn’t remarkably comparable in terms of taste, but it has similarities, and many people find it fairly easy to transition from regular coffee to chicory coffee.
Chicory coffee has been found to have antithrombotic and anti-inflammatory effects. With the reduced stress of inflammation, and the lowered risk of clotting in blood vessels, this coffee proves to be beneficial for lowering your risk of cardiovascular health.
Chicory root can also be great for your liver. The antioxidant components found in the root can improve liver toxicity. The liver has to process a lot of toxic garbage in the body, so it is important to have something like chicory that will help clean it and reduce toxicity.
In a 2010 trial, patients on a chicory root extract showed a 20% improvement in pain and stiffness caused by osteoporosis at the end of the one-month period. This is a relatively short study with impressive results. The study did find that one patient on the highest dosage of the extract had to stop treatment because of adverse effects. This is a good indicator that while chicory root is good for you, too much (high dosages of root extract) can be detrimental and should be avoided.
Chicory root contains an important prebiotic fibre called inulin. If you’re not familiar with prebiotics, it is a type of non-digestible fibre that serves as food for probiotics (good gut bacteria), and has been tied to an overall healthier digestive system. You can read more about prebiotics here.
Most foods that contain inulin only have traces of this fibre, but that’s not the case with chicory root. In fact, it contains anywhere from 36-48 grams of the fibre per 100g serving. That’s why many inulin supplements are made from chicory root.
The inulin in roasted Chicory root has shown to significantly improve adiponectin levels. Adiponectin is a protein hormone that controls fatty acid catabolism and glucose regulation. This is incredibly important, and it can help prevent the onset of diabetes mellitus.
Because inulin is a fibre, chicory root will improve bowel movement, relieving constipation, and removing the built up toxins in the digestive tract. We may not like to think or talk about it, but healthy, regular bowel movements are critical to a healthy you.
People may think you are lazy for not pulling the weeds out of your garden, but chicory is as legitimate of a plant to grow as lettuce or tomatoes. Stop worrying about weeds, and start looking at how these good whole foods can be added to your diet.