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A Widespread Blue Wildflower for Ohio’s Summer.

August 5, 2011

A Bloom for a Day

Chicory

There aren’t lots of blue wildflowers in Ohio, it seems.  Purple, sure.  Violet, we’ve got that covered.  But blue?  They’re out there,  but you have to know where and when to look for them (I’ll be talking about them here eventually).  Blue it seems got short-changed, taking a back seat to such popular colors as yellow, pink and white.

What the color blue lacks in variety among Ohio wildflowers, it makes up for in the sheer abundance from one particular plant.  Ohioans are familiar with this sight.

This is Chicory, a very common summer plant.  It prefers sunny locations, and can be found along roadsides, in fields and in waste areas.  It seems to especially like growing alongside roads- one explanation I found for this was that it likes growing near pavement, rocks and debris because they hold warmth.  So much for my original theory of seeds falling off of wagons and trucks!

This plant is not a native.  It came to North America from Europe with Old World colonists- it is actually native to the Mediterranean region.  Its history in this area goes back a long way.  As a matter of fact, this plant is one of the earliest mentioned in classical age literature.  It was  cultivated by the ancient Egyptians for medicinal uses, and eaten in the Greco-Roman world as a vegetable (the root) or in salads (the leaves).  It continues to be eaten today- you’ll see it on the menu in Italy, among other European countries.  Check out some of the recipes from this BBC webpage.

The root of this plant contains inulin, a fiber substance that is increasingly being used in foods.  Right next to me as I type these words I have a Clif Bar (a favorite snack of mine), and the label tells me that it contains: inulin (Chicory extract).  This substance can replace sugar, fat and flour, and can be used as a fiber additive.

Not only is it consumed by humans, but Chicory is also good animal fodder.  Livestock find it easily digestible and nutritious, and it is toxic to internal parasites as a side benefit.  Lots of research has gone into breeding different varieties as food for farm animals, particularly in New Zealand.

This plant has had medicinal uses for thousands of years.  Besides the aforementioned treatment for parasites, it has been used as a tonic for various ailments, as well as a laxative and a diuretic.

However, Chicory’s most well-known use has been as a coffee substitute and extender.  Residents of New Orleans know it as Cajun Coffee, and it has always been used by rural folk (and during hard times) as a substitute for that popular brewed bean that Starbucks sells by the cupful.  As a bonus, it’s caffeine-free.  This appeal is worldwide- coffee drinkers in India, the Mediterranean and areas of southeast Asia also add it to their brew.  Southern soldiers during the Civil War drank it, and the Great Depression introduced it to many who couldn’t afford ‘the real thing’ in their percolators during those hard times.

I started noticing stems of this plant growing in May of this year; the first blooms I saw came in early June.  It is a prolific summer plant, though it will linger on into fall.  You’ll notice in the first 2 pictures that there are a limited amount of flowers growing at any one time upon this plant.  This is because the blooms are extremely short-lived, showing their glorious blue petals for only a day or so.  This is the culmination of 2 years of growing- the first year, the plant doesn’t flower, the second year it does.  It then produces seeds, and dies with the frosts of approaching winter.

The flowers are quite lovely, in my opinion.  Insects seem to like them as well.

This shade of blue is particularly attractive to me.  I think of it as ‘cornflower blue’- and if I remember right, cornflower is one of this plant’s alternate names.

Every once in a while, you’ll run across a plant with pink versions of the blooms.

If you’re up early enough, you may notice closed flowers on these plants.  They’ll be open soon enough, greeting the sun for their one glorious day of beauty.  This makes me appreciate them even more.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 7:50 pm

    We have these, all over! They are so pretty. I never knew what they were until I posted a picture of one and someone told me. We always referred to them as ‘weeds’, they were unwanted in the yard and we would pull them out. Now I realize they are really a beautiful wildflower and are often in wildflower seed mixes. I’ve never seen one like your last picture.

  2. August 5, 2011 9:06 pm

    The second I saw the word chicory, I immediately thought of New Orleans coffee which I have been fortunate enough to taste. Great history as usual!

  3. August 5, 2011 10:36 pm

    What a pretty & helpful plant. Who would think it had so many uses and still be so petite and charming. 🙂

  4. August 5, 2011 11:59 pm

    Very nice post! I love seeing Chicory here too. Very pretty flowers!

  5. August 6, 2011 2:10 am

    I learn something new with every one of your posts! I terrible about taking the time to look things up and identify them, you’re making it easy for me.

  6. August 16, 2011 8:45 pm

    Hi Tracy. I love the photos. We have chicory too, in bloom right now. It’s blue is unusual, we have so few wild blue flowers. Jane

  7. August 17, 2011 12:27 pm

    Thanks so much for the comments everyone! 🙂

  8. mary biscuso permalink
    August 28, 2013 3:28 pm

    Hey Tracy, I was just googling blue/purple wildflowers in August, and your post came up second on the list! I know about chicory; this pretty wildflowers, with tiny trumpet flowers on a single stalk is new to me this year. What a lovely post. So glad you’re penning it. Will have to catch up.

  9. October 25, 2013 11:53 am

    Nice blog comment Chicory extract I like chicory extract this is hallty is the valuable herb which for a long time has won popularity in national medicine.chicory extract was also often prescribed by herbalists of recent centuries to cure a whole host of ailments; the herbalist of the middle ages often recommended herbal remedies made from the chicory extract as tonics, as laxatives, and as diuretics.
    http://www.adeptimpex.com/chicory-powder.php

  10. March 3, 2017 8:18 am

    Reblogged this on Fifty State Banana and commented:
    Chicory is really neat.

  11. May 13, 2017 7:41 pm

    My daughter took a picture of a whole field of light blue wildflowers behind her house in Cambridge, Ohio. I would like to send you one of her photos (she’s a photographer) to see if you know what it is please. My email is susanmaree_j@yahoo.com

    Thanks in advance.
    Susan

  12. July 11, 2017 11:19 pm

    Thanks for the great post about one of my favorite flowers!

  13. July 25, 2017 2:03 pm

    Great story. Well written. I was told they were cornflowers. 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. Common Wildflowers of Ohio’s Autumn, part 1. « Seasons Flow

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