Best known as a coffee substitute or additive, young leaves are less bitter than dandelion, especially if picked growing in shade. As a medicinal chicory is found to contain volitile oils that kill intestinal worms and in Germany the flower has been used to treat ailments from gallstones to sinus problems.
Every part of the plant is edible with no ill effects. It is best tasting when found growing in shady areas and from early spring through the autumn months.
I dug some chicory recently and am currently using the herb as a liver tonic.
The root, brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven at 250 degrees for 15 minutes, produced something palatable, but tough and stringy. On further consideration, I believe I should have soaked in salt water for awhile and then roasted it.
The leaves sauteed for two minutes with onion and garlic are not as bitter as I expected and mixed with other veggies or pasta would hardly be noticeable.
There has been some confustion over what chicory is edible. All chicory is edible, but some is more palatable than others. All chicory is bitter to some degree, but the Chicorum endiva or Belgian endive is cultivated most often.
The purple ray flowered, spindly limbed species we find alongside roads and in pastures share many of the same qualities as the cultivated varieties, but is higher in nutrients and lower in palatabilty. You must work to make it palatable.
The chicory root can be quite deep as it is a tap root. Set your spade or shovel about five inches from the center of the plant and then dig down and inward toward the center.
Use a small spade to brush dirt away so you can see where the root is and dig under it. If the root is too large it will be too tough even when soaked or boiled. Try to get roots that are not more than two inches in length or after a frost.
The following recipe is taken from Dolce Vita Diaries.
Ingredients for 4 people
Spaghetti – 400g (or any pasta you fancy)
Wild chicory – 500g (plain chicory is available in most supermarkets)
Chilli – one dried one, chopped
Anchovies in olive oil – 3 fillets (optional)
Garlic – 2 cloves Olive oil – 5 tablespoons
Parmesan – 75g grated
Black olives (optional)
Wash the chicory well, cut it up roughly and put it to boil in plenty of salted water. Boil for 15 minutes or until the thicker bits are soft. Drain. Boil a pan of water for the spaghetti. In a big pan or wok heat the oil on a low flame and add the garlic roughly cut into quarters, the anchovies and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the chicory and cook slowly for another 10 minutes. Add the spaghetti to the water and cook for about 5 minutes until ‘half’ cooked. Then spoon out the semi-cooked spaghetti into the chicory mixture (keeping the spaghetti water) and mix well.
Add the spaghetti water to the pasta/chicory one ladle-full at a time (like cooking risotto) and keep on stirring. When the spaghetti is nearly cooked add the grated parmesan, leaving a bit to sprinkle at the end, and mix well. This method gives you quite a creamy sauce, so that’s what you should be aiming for. Check for salt and serve. If you use short pasta instead of spaghetti it’s a bit easier because‘you don’t make such a mess’.