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About a month ago, I noticed multiple Chicory plants popping up in my yard (please see my prior article on Permaculture Plants: Chicory). For those that don’t know, my family and I are currently renting a home in the Azores. The “yard” is a rather large, traditional English-like garden, but with more sub-tropical and maritime plants. It is not my ideal from a Permaculture perspective, but we do with what we have. Well, as I saw the Chicory spring up across the grass, I immediately thought of a few things:

First – the soil must be compacted. Chicory is a “weed” that grows in poor soils. It has a deep tap-root that can break through the hard soil and mine for water and nutrients. Chicory pops up where soil conditions do not allow many other plants to grow. Knowing what I do of the soil under the layer of grass in my yard, I would have to agree with the Chicory’s selection of this soil!

Second – the Chicory is mining nutrients. It is known as a “dynamic accumulator”. (please see my prior article on the subject of Dynamic Accumulators for more information on this topic.) I decided I would let it grow a bit and build up lots of nutrients before I cut them back.

Third – the root of the Chicory can be made into a coffee additive or substitute. The roasted and ground root was used by American colonists to stretch their meager coffee supplies. It was used as an additive or on its own during many points in history where politics deprived people from drinking their coffee. This was a common occurrence in France, and some continued the use of Chicory due to perceived health benefits and acquired taste. With such a strong French influence, New Orleans has continued to drink Chicory coffee for the last 200 years. I have never tried this drink. It appears the land was giving me this opportunity!

So this is what I did…

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I pulled up the plant, root and all. If you grab the entire plant and pull straight up, steadily and slowly, you can get the entire root out of the ground… I had about an 80% success rate. Any plants where the root broke off at ground level, I just left in place. If it rots in place, that will help the soil. If it grows back, then I’ll just harvest it later!

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Here is my collection of Chicory plants from my yard.

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The tops were cut off and thrown into the compost pile.

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I then scrubbed the roots to get all the soil off. This was the most time consuming part of the process. I ended up using a plastic bristle brush and that worked very well. I placed the quarter in there for size comparison. These are pretty deep roots for a small “weed” that has not been growing very long. What a great plant!

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I chopped up the roots with a heavy, sharp knife so that the roasting would be more even.

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The root pieces were roasted for about 90 minutes in a 350 F (180 C) oven.

A few comments first:

  • Raw Chicory root that has been cleaned has a very pleasant odor to it. Reminds me of a nutty fig wood or ficus sap. Fruity, woody, and nutty.
  • Raw Chicory root tastes awful! It is very, very bitter. I rarely spit food out, but I had to with this one. I kept chewing and chewing, hoping there would be some sweetness or other flavor come through. Nope! Just bitter! I don’t recommend doing this.
  • The smell of the Chicory roasting filled my house with an amazing nutty, coffee, chocolate smell. Hard to describe, but amazing.
  • Many sites recommend grinding the root before brewing, but a few said you need a strong grinder. Also, there were a number of sites that just used the roasted roots as they were. I have a good, but not strong coffee grinder I use for spices… a lot. I didn’t want to burn it out grinding up something that looked like pieces of wood. I went ahead I made the coffee with just the roasted chunks of Chicory root.

Chicory Coffee:

  • I poured about 12 ounces (350 ml) boiling water over 2 tablespoons of root.
  • The water turned brown almost immediately.
  • I left it to steep for about 12 minutes (10-15 minutes is most commonly recommended). The water was now very dark brown/black.
  • I divided this into four mugs.
    • First – plain/straight: great flavor, but a bit strong for me
    • Second – with about 1 teaspoon dark molasses (this is considered the traditional American colonist’s method): had a good flavor and had a good level of sweetness, but the molasses was too much for me.
    • Third – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey: very good
    • Fourth – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey and 2 tablespoons organic whole milk: my favorite! Tastes like a mix between a nutty coffee and a strong tea
  • My next batch will be mixed with regular coffee.

This was an easy project. It was fun, made the house smell great, and gave a great end product. Plus, I have quite a few servings left over stored in an airtight, glass jar in my pantry. I got rid of a “weed” which my landlord will like, and I added a bunch of nutrient-rich material to my compost pile. What a great, easy Permaculture Project! Cheers!

 

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Photo References:

  • All photos are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them. Thanks!