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Forgotten herb: chicory

Wild chicory blue flowers wildflowers

Imagine it is April 24, 1862.

You live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and set out on a beautiful Thursday morning to go pick up a copy of the local newspaper.

If you are a lover of fine hot beverages, you were about to have a really disappointing day. In fact, the day’s headlines likely made you think, “Oh darlin, we may never taste coffee again.” (You have to read it with a Southern accent.)

Oh well, you knew this day would come. There were Union blockades of the shores all around the south. You heard the bombs and gunfire, but on that day in April, the boys in blue were more than near your shoreline. They had captured the city, and no more coffee was getting through those lines.

If you’re an optimist, your second thought would be, “I’m going to find an alternative.”

Allow me to reintroduce you to chicory.

Unlike some of the less-invasive forgotten herbs, you’ve probably been around chicory your whole life without really noticing it. Do these little blue flowers look familiar?


Chicory is not native to the US. If you lived in Europe or with someone who did, you might already know all about using chicory in coffee. One of my French roommates absolutely craved it. It was in her blood as the French have a long history with chicory coffee, too. They also experienced a war-time blockade that pushed them toward the need for an alternative hot beverage.

To be fair, there are other varieties of chicory, most of which you might have know as different types of endive or Italian dandelions. Their roots can be roasted into coffee alternatives as well.

Even though Europeans introduced chicory seeds to the US during colonial times, the nation-wide spreading of the wildflower is a direct result of the American Civil War negatively affecting the availability of tea and coffee in the divided country.

Back in the day, the plant was widely cultivated in private gardens. When it was mature, the root was dug up, roasted and ground into a brewed hot drink, an alternative to coffee. It’s not really a thing of the past. Some Americans still prefer the flavor of coffee blended with roasted chicory root. Je te regard…I’m looking at you, Café du Monde.

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Chicory is not a wildflower at all. It’s an escaped prisoner. Much like my experience cultivating chives, chicory was just not well-behaved. It busted out of our ancestors’ garden centuries ago and now stretches its roots along highways and roadsides in pretty much every city in the US.

One more thing, that might just split the audience here…chicory is caffeine free.

Chicory wildflower blue flower blooms

I hope you enjoy these articles.

You can read about more forgotten herbs in the on-going series.

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Forgotten herbs

Dried calendula flowers diy for oil infusions and healing herb salve

Imagine your great-grandkid never hearing the words mint or parsley or sage?

Well, in a way, you are that great-grandkid. I am that great-grandkid.

As chain grocers and supermarkets opened stores all across the world, they favored plants that travelled well. Over time, we simply forgot about a large number of herbs and veggies that were so common generations before us took them for granted.

Funnier still, you drive by some of them all of the time and might not know it. Some of those old-time, common plants escaped your ancestors’ gardens and are now called by the same generic term, “weeds”.

clary plant

But, all is not lost. In this series I want to take you back to a time when the herbs mentioned here were well known.


Explore the series on Forgotten Herbs.  I hope you try an idea or two. Each of the pages will provide you with links to buy some seeds of your own. Maybe we can bring back the popularity of some of these herbs.

Forgotten herb: borage
Forgotten herb: nasturtium
Forgotten herb: clary sage
Forgotten herb: calendula
Forgotten herb: chicory
Forgotten herb: balsam apple

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