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In the Highways, In the Hedges: Chicory

Chicory: Cichorium intybus

I hesitate to glorify this one because it's everywhere, not just the Ozarks, and it's not native to the US. However, I've found that, while many people have heard of chicory, they don't know what it looks like. These prolific, blue "weeds" growing along the roadsides and highways of America are the very plant you may have heard of as a Southern coffee substitute. If you've been to, or have purchased, Cafe du Monde coffee from New Orleans, then you've had a coffee-chicory root blend. Note, though, Cichorium intybus contains no caffeine, and may actually have properties that counteract the stimulant effects of coffee! It's also much cheaper than coffee. Which is why (fun fact!) it's considered a win-win in some prisons: a low-cost, non-stimulating coffee substitute that's enough like the real thing to satisfy a person's coffee craving, and make for smoother morning routines.

If you're into fancy salads, you've probably eaten chicory without knowing it. Both baby dandelion leaves, and radicchio come from the chicory plant, which is, itself, a member of the dandelion family.

This tough, dusty plant fares well where other plants would certainly perish. If you're interested in tasting chicory, the dried root is available in teas, or in bulk from many tea purveyors, and as a little extra jazz in some coffees. I've never seen it growing anywhere I'd want to pick it to eat. It seems to thrive on exhaust fumes. Best to simply enjoy those roadside washes of blue, and go buy some salad mix.