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Chicory is an easily accessible bitter remedy for digestive problems

Chicory

Cichorium intybus Cichorium

Distinctively bold and bright with its characteristic blue flower heads, chicory is a cooling bitter for the digestion with a lingering sweetness that balances blood sugar.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Balances blood sugar
  • Digestive remedy
  • How does it feel?

    Chicory has an intense bitter taste with a sweet after taste. It could also be described as having nutty, woody, and earthy tones. Chicory root shares some similar taste qualities to ground coffee beans.

    As a bitter astringent medicine, chicory offers a cooling and cleansing action upon the body systems. Herbs that have a bitter taste will directly support the function of the liver. The liver is an important organ that deals with metabolism, nutrient storage as well as detoxification.

  • What can I use it for?

    Bitter herbs like chicory are extremely valuable in herbal medicine as they can be taken to improve the function of the eliminatory organs such as the liver and the gallbladder. By optimising the function of the liver they are able to reduce circulatory toxins and excess heat (inflammation) throughout the body. 

    As a cooling bitter, chicory gently stimulates the digestive system whilst also being highly regarded as a herb that can help balance blood sugar levels. Chicory may also be used to help regulate the appetite and curb sugar cravings.

    Bitter herbs are great to incorporate into ones daily practice. By this detoxifying action, chicory will offer its benefits to all the body systems.

  • Into the heart of chicory

    Chicory root is considered one of the primary liver, gallbladder and spleen tonics due to its ability to stimulate the flow of bile from the gallbladder and bile ducts. By this mechanism it is understood to help purify the blood. 

    It is a mild sedative and relaxant, making this earthy root medicine excellent for a grounding effect upon the nervous system (3).

    In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves are ground into a paste applied to pita type inflammatory skin problems, this practice is also referenced in herbal physiomedicalism references (3). 

  • Traditional uses

    Chicory was originally thought to be superior to dandelion as a bitter medicine. It has long been used as a coffee substitute or blended in with coffee. It was said to ‘contra-stimulate’ meaning that it serves to correct the excitation caused by the principles of coffee.

    The uses of this herb go far back in stories of folk medicine all over Europe, it is said there is a different name for it in every European country. It was known to the Romans, with its use mentioned by Pliny (a Latin compilation of medical remedies dating to the early 4th century AD).

    Traditional applications were for those who suffered with constipation, particularly where rooted in biliousness or poor liver function. It was also traditionally used in the treatment of gout and rheumatic complaints (2).

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Digestive system: In modern herbal medicine, chicory is used as a mild digestive tonic, much like dandelion. It is recommended for liver and kidney complaints. It is regarded as a digestive tonic, laxative and diuretic. 

    Chicory may be applied in hyperglycaemia characterised by an excessive appetite particularly with sugar cravings. Chicory will also reduce heat and inflammation within the digestive tract.

    Herbalists may use it to further assist the body’s efforts to release and dissolve gallstones, expel excess internal mucus and treat liver complaints, such as jaundice and an enlarged liver.

    It will stimulate a dormant digestive system helping to counter-act fermentation or infection arising within the gut. It is a gentle anti-inflammatory to both the digestive, whilst also stimulating detoxification and cleansing through the liver.

    It is indicated in sluggish, inefficient digestive systems with a tendency towards dysbiosis.

    Musculoskeletal: Due to its blood purifying action, chicory may also be used in inflammatory conditions in the musculoskeletal system such as for rheumatism and gout. This is because it improves the elimination of uric acid (3).

    Immune system: Chicory may also be indicated where there are high fevers or inflammation during an infection by helping to reduce basal body temperature.

  • Research

    The primary medicinal constituents in chicory are inulin, sesquiterpene lactones and pungent bitter principles. The inulin portion of the plant reduces lipid levels in the bloodstream, including cholesterol and is classed as an anti-hyperlipidemic. 

    The inulin also demonstrates a hypoglycemic effect through the stimulation of peptides within the endocrine system that are involved in appetite regulation. Chicory has the ability to inhibit prostaglandin and cyclooxygenase, influencing an anti-inflammatory affect within the body. Its bitter principle and taste acts as a stimulant to the digestive system and the liver whilst also supporting digestive bacteria.

    Metabolic health: A systematic review that analysed the available data surrounding the research into chicory had some interesting findings. The effect of chicory on the glycemic index showed a positive improvement in the blood glucose index in 15 out of 19 studies (it had no effect in two human studies and three animal studies). 

    Evaluating the effects of chicory on lipid profiles in 13 out of 15 studies the review also offers a positive result for improved dyslipidaemia. 12 studies analysed in this review show that chicory significantly reduces oxidative stress and inflammation (9).

    Constipation and prebiotic effects: A clinical trial was carried out to investigate the effects of chicory inulin in constipated elderly people. The study was carried out as a double-blind controlled trial. The study measured bowel symptoms as well as faecal levels of bifidobacteria. The results of the study showed that supplementation with chicory insulin successfully enhanced focal bifidobacteria levels as well as improving digestion and ease of bowel movements (5).

    Another double-blind controlled trial which was carried out to evaluate the effects of chicory-derived fermentable dietary fibre on patients with chronic constipation. The study concluded that supplementation with chicory fibre improved stool frequency and significantly improved overall bowel function (6)

    Diabetes, blood sugar and liver enzymes: A randomised placebo-controlled trial was carried out to investigate the effects of enriched chicory inulin on liver enzymes, calcium homeostasis and haematological parameters in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. 46 diabetic females were allocated into either the chicory inulin group to take a daily dose of 10 g of chicory or the placebo group. The study was carried out over two months.

    The study concludes that oligofructose enriched chicory inulin elicits positive effects upon glucose and calcium homeostasis, improved liver function tests and blood pressure with a reduction in haematological risk factors in females with diabetes. Further studies are needed to identify the effects in both genders (7).

    Menopause: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design trial using oligofructose enriched-inulin was found to enhance intestinal calcium absorption and improve bone markers in healthy postmenopausal women (8).

  • Did you know?

    Chicory root can be chopped, roasted and ground, with the resulting powder being added to ground coffee. This plant is primarily grown as a food crop.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Chicory is a perennial herbaceous plant with a characteristic bright blue flower heads that flower for only one day. It can grow up to a metre in height and produces a long tap root. Its leaves are toothed with short hairs and the fruits are a mottled brown. It is cultivated for its edible leaves and roots, but also as an ornamental flower.

  • Common names

    • Blue daisy
    • Blue dandelion
    • Blue sailors
    • Blue weed
    • Bunk
    • Coffee weed
    • Hendibeh
    • Horseweed
    • Ragged sailors
    • Succory
    • Wild Bachelors buttons
    • Wild endive
  • Safety

    Avoid with Warfarin, salicylates & other anticoagulant medications.

  • Interactions

    Chicory should be avoided by those taking warfarin, salicylates and other anticoagulant medications.

  • Contraindications

    Chicory is not safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • Preparation

    • Tincture
    • Capsule
    • Decoction
  • Dosage

    Chicory is best taken before meals.

    Dried3-6g daily

    Infusion: 6g (1 tablespoon) of chopped root per 200ml of water.

    Tincture: Take between 2-4ml daily for unto 3 weeks. After at least a week break, cycles can be repeated.

  • Plant parts used

    • Root (most common)
    • Sometimes leaf
    • Seed

    The former two plant parts (roots and leaf) are best harvested young.

  • Constituents

    • Carbohydrates
    • Proteins
    • Soluble fiber
    • Phenolic compounds
    • Inulin
    • Coumarins
    • Anthocyanins
    • Tannins
    • Monomeric flavonoidsSesquiterpene lactones (1).
Chicory illustration (Cichorium intybus)
  • Habitat

    It is native to Europe, Northern Africa and Western/Central Asia and commonly grows on roadsides and waste land.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status chicory is widely distributed in central, northern, southeastern and southwestern Europe, it is therefore regionally classified as ‘Least Concern’ (4).

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    Chicory can be an annual or a perennial plant that prefers to grow in fertile, well-drained soil in full sunlight. It can thrive in most soil types but prefers well drained chalk, sandy or loam.

    • Seeds should be sown ¼ inch deep in containers in a cold frame or indoors in autumn or spring five to six weeks before they are moved outdoors. 
    • Chicory prefers dryer conditions in full sun. They are easy to care for and will usually flower in their second year. 
  • References

    1. Nwafor, I.C., Shale, K. and Achilonu, M.C. (2017). Chemical Composition and Nutritive Benefits of Chicory(Cichorium intybus)as an Ideal Complementary and/or Alternative Livestock Feed Supplement. The Scientific World Journal, 2017, pp.1–11. doi:10.1155/2017/7343928.
    2. Grieve, M. (1984). A Modern Herbal. Penguin Books. United Kingdom.
    3. Menzies-Trull, C. (2013). Herbal medicine keys to physiomedicalism including pharmacopoeia. Newcastle: Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine (Fphm).
    4. Collett, L., Korpelainen, H., Draper, D., Magos, J., Juozas Labokas (Institute of Botany, Lithuania, Maria, Slovak, E., Strajeru, S., Smekalova, T. and Bulińska, Z. (2010). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Cichorium intybus. [online] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/168690/6527012.
    5. Marteau, P., Jacobs, H., Cazaubiel, M., Signoret, C., Prevel, J.-M. and Housez, B. (2011). Effects of chicory inulin in constipated elderly people: a double-blind controlled trial. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, [online] 62(2), pp.164–170. doi:10.3109/09637486.2010.527323.
    6. Micka, A., Siepelmeyer, A., Holz, A., Theis, S. and Schön, C. (2016). Effect of consumption of chicory inulin on bowel function in healthy subjects with constipation: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(1), pp.82–89. doi:10.1080/09637486.2016.1212819.
    7. Farhangi, M.A., Javid, A.Z. and Dehghan, P. (2016). The effect of enriched chicory inulin on liver enzymes, calcium homeostasis and hematological parameters in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Primary Care Diabetes, 10(4), pp.265–271. doi:10.1016/j.pcd.2015.10.009.
    8. Holloway, L., Moynihan, S., Abrams, S.A., Kent, K., Hsu, A.R. and Friedlander, A.L. (2007). Effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin on intestinal absorption of calcium and magnesium and bone turnover markers in postmenopausal women. The British Journal of Nutrition, [online] 97(2), pp.365–372. doi:10.1017/S000711450733674X.
    9. Nasimi Doost Azgomi, R., Karimi, A., Tutunchi, H. and Moini Jazani, A. (2021). A comprehensive mechanistic and therapeutic insight into the effect of chicory ( Cichorium intybus ) supplementation in diabetes mellitus: A systematic review of literature. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 75(12). doi:10.1111/ijcp.14945.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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