Chicory

(Cichorium intybus) It was cultivated on the Continent up to World War II, for the root, which is used as a substitute for coffee, and is sometimes mixed with real coffee as an adulterant. It is very bitter, and contains no caffeine or tannin (Sanford). It was introduced as a coffee substitute in the 18th century, but it was actually banned by a law of 1832, repealed in 1840, though it has now virtually died out as a coffee substitute (Brouk). Another use for the foliage, which is edible once the bitter principle is removed by twice boiling, was for a blue dye (Hemphill).

The seed was at one time used as a love potion. In a German story, a girl whose lover had gone away on a voyage devoted her life thereafter to sitting at the wayside and looking for him. She waited so long that she finally took root and became the blue chicory, which is known as Wegenwarte (Philpot), the watcher of the road. One version of the story attributes the woman's desertion to good cause, and where that idea prevails, the plant is known as the accursed maid (J M Skinner). It is a symbol of frugality (Leyel. 1937). Country people used to tell the time by chicory flowers, and Linnaeus used them in his "floral clock" (Krymow).

Chicory has the power of conferring invisibilty, and it was once hung on the banners of those going on a crusade or exploring new lands. Many a prospector in the Californian gold rush had a chicory root in his pocket (R L Brown), for the plants that conferred invisibility almost invariably found treasure and opened locks. Like Moonwort, it could open a locked box - a leaf had to be held against the lock. For the magic to work, it had to be picked on St James's Day, 25 July, and had to be cut in silence with a golden knife. If the cutter spoke during the work, he would die (M Baker. 1980). Another of the magical uses has to do with crystal gazing. An exponent said that good results could be had by drinking an infusion of mugwort, or else chicory (Kunz). One story about the woodpecker concerns chicory. It was said that the bird got its strength by rubbing its beak against a plant that flowered only at midnight on Midsummer Eve. Chicory was one of the candidates for this identification (Hare).

It was very much a liver (it was known as "liver's friend) and jaundice plant (see Gerard, and Thornton). Gypsies use a root decoction for jaundice (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and chicory flowers were used for liver complaints (Pollock). Distilled water of the flowers has been recommended as a good eyewash (Genders. 1976); this may be a cosmetic, too, for an infusion of the whole plant has long been used as such - applied at bedtime, it will remove blemishes from the skin. There is nothing new about that, for Thomas Hill in 1577 wrote that "Ciccorie cureth scabbed places, causeth a faire skin ...". He went on to claim that "it helpeth ... the kings evill, the plague, burning agues ... and cureth the shingles". It has been recommended for easy childbirth (V G Hatfield. 1984), and Lupton quoted Mizaldus in making the extraordinary claim that "if a woman anoint often her dugs or paps with the juice of succory, it will make them little, round and hard; or if they be hanging or bagging, it will draw them together, whereby they shall seem as the dugs of a maid". Succory, incidentally, is, most probably, another version of chicory.

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