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Chicory is a bitter green that belongs to the endive family and has broad leaves and stalks similar to a dandelion. Originally wild, chicory was native to West Asia, North Africa and Europe, and was cultivated medicinally by the Egyptians about 5,000 years ago, and by Europeans for the kitchen table and animal feed in the 17th century.
Still found in the wild, chicory is an important source of food for deer, elk, turkey and quail because of its high nutrient content. Astonishingly high in vitamins A, B-complex, C, K and beta-carotene, chicory is also rich in lutein and Zeaxanthifolic acid, thiamin and niacin, calcium, manganese, copper, iron and potassium and antioxidants, which help treat gallstones and digestion issues, improve eyesight, lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar and weight, prevent Alzheimer’s, and heal the skin.
This somewhat bitter vegetable pairs well with ginger and apples and other greens, and can be used in soups, salads, omelettes, pasta, or raw with a vinaigrette as a side dish. Used as a substitute for coffee during coffee shortages, chicory was made famous by the Cafe du Monde cafe in New Orleans for their chicory coffee. Often made into tea, chicory can be used as a diuretic, laxative, for curing jaundice and skin problems, while the root extract can be used as an antibacterial and to eliminate parasites in animals.
A biennial plant, chicory can sometimes live for up to 5 years. Plant your St. Claire Heirloom chicory seeds around 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost, and about 2 to 3 months before the first fall frost, but remember chicory flowers produce male and female blooms; however, they cannot self-pollinate, and must be pollinated, usually by honey bees.
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