The most typical habitat of chicory is a wasteland, roadside or pasture. Except growing wild, the plant is also cultivated as a vegetable in gardens and fields. Native to Europe, the herb now is grown in almost every country in the world, being most popular in Asia and North Africa.
Chicory prefers growing in places with good sun exposure and well-drained soil made of sandy loam, it also tolerates high temperatures despite being cool-weather herb. The plant is propagated with seed and cultivated in summer, root being of major interest for the producer.
Original chicory cultivation was connected to the leaf of the plant. It has been used for the salads or eaten as a vegetable. Chicory root was widely introduced in the 19th century as coffee substitute, or a blend - to enrich the flavor of the coffee. The root is also used in beer brewing.
Major available chicory products come from the dried root. The most common method is powdering of the dried root and its further procession into granulated extracts. Sometimes powder is being placed into molds for obtaining the slab shape. Chicory root decoction and syrup are also available at the market.
So what makes chicory what it is?
The two major chemical compounds found in chicory root include 11 - 15 percent of sugars (levulose, pentose and dextrose) and bitter principle taraxarcine. Inulin, the key polysaccharide chemical in chicory, is the one that gives the plant its characteristic aroma. It also got its popularity for being used as a source of a dietary fibre. Tannin, volatile and fatty oil have been found in chicory as well. Chicory is used medicinaly as tonic, diuretic and laxative.
Despite being mainly used in food, chicory is found as a component in herbal preparations and blends for medicinal purposes.
Applied externally, chicory root preparations are effective in relieving bruises, swelling, skin allergies, inflammation, swollen and sore joints (in patients with arthritis) and sunburn. Herbalists also use it for eye disorders, poison ivy and hemorrhoids.
Bitter components in the root enhance the functions of digestive system: diarrhea, vomiting, gastritis, heartburn, acid indigestion defeat when handled with chicory. Moreover, the chemical content of the root promotes bile production and thus stimulates the gallbladder function. This makes the plant an effective blood purifier and gallstone dissolver.
Since ancient times chicory has been used for liver disorders. Its hepatoprotective actions are beneficial or liver disease and other related disorders, including enlarged liver and jaundice.
Diuretic properties of chicory provide protection for urinary system and kidneys. Increased urine flow stimulates the cleansing of the body and enhances toxins removal.
Medical research conducted in Egypt showed that chicory consumption affects the heartbeat rate by slowing it. This resulted in an assumption that the root can also be helpful for people with tachycardia, although more research needs to be done on this property.
Since no side effects have been noted with chicory root, it can be suggested for consumptions with no limitations. Although certain individuals may experience allergies to some of the plant's components.