Saturday, May 19, 2012

The chicories' medicinal properties

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
The chicories are perennial plants that add a touch of colour during the summer months. The most common is the chicory, ċikwejra in Maltese. Its light blue flowers can be seen between May and October. Anybody visiting the countryside during the warmer months is likely to see the plant protruding out of the dry vegetation. It grows throughout most of Europe although it is doubtful whether it is native in northern parts.

The spiny chicory is less common but can also be found with a little effort. In Maltese it is known as qanfuda meaning like a hedgehog an obvious reference to its shape and spines. The flowers which appear in May are very similar to the more common species but the flowering season is much shorter and they disappear by the end of July. This species is native to the Mediterranean region and is well adapted for the region’s hot dry summer.

The chicory has been cultivated in Europe for many centuries as a medicinal plant. In some countries, especially in poorer regions, the roots are baked and ground to be used as a substitute for coffee.

Chicory contains chemicals that can eliminate internal parasites such as worms and it is sometimes added to animal forage to help reduce internal worms. It is also said to have many other medicinal properties including as a treatment for gallstones, gastro-enteritis, sinusitis, and for cuts and bruises.

A related species, the endive, is also found in Europe. Several varieties of this species are cultivated in many countries including Malta although it does not seem to be as popular as other leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach even though it is known to be very healthy as it is rich in vitamins A and K, minerals, foliate and it is also high in fiber. It is available for sale in spring at about the same time as the globe artichoke and the two are often cooked together as their tastes compliment each other. 

This article was published in The Times on 18.05.2011

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