This plant with attractive blue flowers is widely distributed in Europe, Asia and Africa, where it is easy to find on roadsides and sites with low humidity. The most used part in phytotherapy is the root, which is used to make infusions and the tender leaves can be included in salads.
Chicory (Cichonium intybus)
In times of scarcity, chicory was a pleasant substitute for coffee, mainly due to its lower economic cost. To produce this substitute, the root is harvested, dried and then roasted and reduced to powder, obtaining a product with a mild aroma and with the advantage that it does not contain caffeine.
Chicory contains in its composition bitter substances such as intibin and lactulopicrin, a significant amount of inulin (carbohydrate), and also tannins, chlorogenic and isochlorogenic acid.
Properties and indications:
Inulin gives it a slightly aperitif action that may be beneficial in case of loss of appetite or anorexia if taken before meals. The bitter substances have the property of increasing bile production and promote its evacuation from the gallbladder (choleretic and cholagogue effect), so it is suitable for consumption in case of dyspepsia or poor digestion and dysfunction of the liver and gallbladder. It has a mild diuretic effect that can be useful for people suffering from hypertension, gout or arthritis and as an adjunct in weight loss diets.
Chicory should not be taken in case of allergic hypersensitivity to the plant, and if you suffer from gallstones it is advisable to consult a doctor before consumption. No toxicity has been described in the usual doses and as side effects may appear as allergic skin reactions in people hypersensitive to this plant.
Presentation and posology:
Chicory can be taken in the form of infusion and other preparations for internal use made from the dried and crushed root. The recommended dose is 30 g per liter of water and 2 to 3 cups daily, taken before meals to whet the appetite and afterwards as a digestive remedy.
Since the 17th century, the infusion of its roasted root has been used as a substitute for coffee or as an adulterant of the latter, a particularly frequent use on occasions when transport restrictions prevented the importation of tropical products and which led to the expansion of its cultivation during the Napoleonic Wars.
As a salad vegetable its use dates back only to the 19th century, as the marked bitter taste of the intibin it contains makes the ripe leaves generally unfit for consumption. It is believed that observations made in the botanical garden of Brussels in the middle of that century led gardeners to notice that tender winter shoots, especially if protected from strong sun, are milder in flavor. Modern varieties have been largely selected to prevent very high concentrations of intibin, however, so it is consumed later in the year.
A variety native to northern Italy, known as radicchio shows very distinct leaves, forming a dense purplish colored head, caused by anthocyanin, the same compound that gives its color to the flowers, which are also consumed as a salad vegetable or cooked on the grill.
The leaves of this plant are one of the ingredients of preboggion, a mixture of herbs typical of Ligurian cuisine.