Malachite’s Big Hole
Making your own Chicory Tea:
The Chicory plant can be recognized by its blue daisy-like flower, and wiry, branched stems with few leaves. The plant often grows to 3-4 feet tall, and can be as tall as 6 feet. Chicory was brought to North America from Eurasia by the French during the earliest colonial times. The roots, ground and roasted, were used as a coffee substitute, or to extend limited supplies of coffee. Carried by the voyageurs on the their extended trips to gather furs, Chicory came to grow along all the old trails and waterways. The plant is now found throughout North America, commonly along roads, in fields and meadows, and on city lots.
Harvesting Chicory Roots
The Chicory plant generally has a single primary "tap-root", with filament-like secondary roots. Some plants may develop branch roots, which are much smaller than the primary tap-root. The roots of older plants may exceed 12 inches in length and several inches in diameter.
Roots can be harvested with moderate success by grasping the plant pulling out the root. The lower part of the root is often broken off and lost using this method. The harvest can be maximized by using a shovel to loosen the soil adjacent to the root zone.
Preparation of the Chicory Root
As soon as possible after harvesting prepare the chicory root for drying. Wash all dirt and soil from the root. With a stiff scrub brush remove as much of the “bark” as possible. With small roots, this is fairly easy, but older roots develop a thick bark-like dermis. It may be necessary to remove the bark by peeling with a sharp knife. If the root is allowed to dry prior to removing the bark, removal will become increasingly difficult. After the root has been barked, I chop the root into segments approximately ¼ to ½ inch long, depending on the diameter of the root. Run these segments through an old fashioned meat-grinder at a fairly fine setting. A blender might also work, but the root segments are pretty tough.
The ground root material is placed in a food dryer and run at the lowest temperature setting until thoroughly dry, usually overnight. If desired, the chicory can now be stored until a later time for further processing.
Roasting the Chicory Root
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the chicory on a cookie sheet or shallow tray. After the oven reaches 350 F place the tray on the lowest rack in the oven. Roast the chicory for about 13 minutes. Some parts of the tray may heat faster than others. If this occurs, stir the chicory at intervals of several minutes to ensure uniform toasting. The flavor of the tea produced is dependent on how much the chicory is toasted. The intensity and bitterness of the brew will be proportional to the darkness of the chicory grounds. Slightly toasted chicory will produce a pale colored brew with little flavor, but nutty aroma. Medium brown grounds will produce a black-tea colored brew, and a flavor which is more mild than coffee, but more bitter than tea. I would recommend experimenting with roasting relatively small quantities chicory prior to committing one’s entire harvest and effort.
Final Preparation, and Brewing
After the chicory is toasted, I run the grounds through a coffee grinder to produce a finer material. This step could also be performed after the initial grinding prior to toasting.
A tea-ball, filled with one and one-half teaspoons of chicory grounds will produce about 4 cups drink. If one has access to empty tea-bags, these could be filled with pre-measured quantities of chicory grounds for brewing as a tea. A variation of a pure chicory brew involves adding dried mint leaves to the brew.