Herb Profile: Chicory
Any of our readers from New Orleans might already be familiar with chicory root (Café du Monde chicory coffee anyone?!) If you love the toasty, slightly nutty, and earthy notes that roasted chicory root brings into your NOLA coffee cup, and loathe the side effects that come with drinking coffee, we have found the right blend for you.
Although chicory is a fabulous flavor-booster, it does so much more than that. Read on to discover chicory’s other roles as a restorative digestion-enhancer, bowel regulator, liver decongestant, and nutritive herb. All we can say is: prepare yourself for a little potty talk.
All About Poop
One of the side effects of coffee some drinkers actually rely on or enjoy...is that coffee makes us poop! For those of us that depend on this side effect to get our bowels moving, limiting or replacing regular coffee might sound a bit alarming. Not to worry, chicory has your back! Part of chicory’s digestion-enhancing effects is through its gentle laxative qualities (Holmes, 1989). The key word here is “gentle.” Drinking chicory root will not have you running to the bathroom or cause your bowels to completely run loose, but it does gently promote things to get moving.
Part of the reason it has these effects is that chicory root has a restorative effect on the digestive system (Holmes, 1989). It’s true: herbs can actually help you restore your digestive system! For those of you who have experienced lifelong gut issues, we feel you. Chicory is here to help.
For chicory, digestive system restoration starts in the pancreas. Now when we usually talk about our tummy troubles, the stomach and intestines tend to come up, but not always the pancreas. Yet the pancreas is a key player on the team too, that typically gets little to no attention...
By restoring the pancreas, production of our body’s natural digestive enzymes, or “juices,” becomes regulated. These juices secreted by the pancreas enhance our digestion of food.
Yes, taking a digestive enzyme supplement is one way that works too...but only temporarily and if taken regularly over a long period of time, it can actually inhibit our natural enzymes from being produced. When we supplement with enzymes for an extended time, the pancreas becomes confused, thinking that someone else has stepped in and is doing the “juice maker” job for the body now.
Enter our hero, chicory! It restores our pancreas’ natural, and always organic, juice-making function to start working and stay working, so you have the enzymes you need to properly digest your food.
Once you start restoring and nourishing your digestive system, you might be surprised at the myriad of other symptoms which simply start falling away. Irregular bowel movements and constipation included.
When your digestive system is balanced, your overall digestion is also enhanced. This means your body can fully extract all of the nutrients in the food we eat—on a cellular level. Chicory helps us digest fat and assimilate vital nutrients more easily into the body. In poop talk, this looks like no more undigested food in our stools (including those pesky kernels of corn).
Bonus: chicory also supports some powerful anti-inflammatory action throughout the body. So if inflammation is at the root of your issues, look toward chicory (Holmes, 1989).
Cleaning Out Our Inner Filter
Just like all well-oiled machines, our body has a major filtration system to ensure that everything goes where it needs to—while stopping any unwelcome intruders or toxins. But, as you know, our body is SO much more than a machine. Part of our complex nature means our bodies don’t work like some basic car filter!
Although we have many different filtration systems throughout the body, our main one is the liver. The liver is considered a “master filter” since it carries the vital role of filtering all of our blood that passes through the stomach plus over 500 other vital functions in the body! Yes, your liver is working 500 different jobs, 24 hours/day, without compensation (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.).
If we binge on things like junk food or alcohol regularly, it's only natural that over time our liver filter can become clogged or congested. Chicory is here to give your hard-working liver a break! If we want our master filter to keep functioning optimally, as intended, then utilizing herbs like chicory root which promote liver decongesting is crucial.
Part of how chicory helps to decongest the liver is through nourishing the blood, in particular: liver blood (Holmes, 1989). This is one of chicory’s traditional uses which even dates back to ancient times in Greece and Rome. When the blood is nourished, the body becomes re-energized, fatigue is lifted, and stabilized endurance is achieved. In this sense, chicory is a fabulous herb for deficient conditions, especially those which are blood-related.
Oh, and to no surprise, your digestive health is connected here too! The liver also assists in the production of bile, which carries wastes and breaks down fats during digestion (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). When our liver becomes congested, our bile production can be thrown off, creating a cascade of effects on our digestion and stools. Another reason why chicory is an excellent ally for our poops—by supporting our liver function, it impacts how well we eliminate waste.
To Roast or Not To Roast
In Rasa Koffee, we opt to use roasted chicory root for a few reasons:
1. Roasted = Warm! The majority of medicinal herbs tend to be energetically cold and drying, which is not what we are looking for in our formula or what you probably want in your morning cup. When you roast an herb, it promotes the energetic of the herb to become warmer, which is inherently better for our digestion (Tierra, 1992).
2. Flavor Enhancer: with chicory in particular, when you roast the root all of these incredibly nutty and toasty flavors come out which we find gives a similar satisfactory aroma as coffee.
3. Yang Booster: when certain herbs are roasted, their “yang” qualities become enhanced (Tierra, 1992). Chicory is already considered a generally yang-promoting food in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), so when roasted, that action can become a bit more enhanced. Because most of us could use a little extra yang as part of our adaptogenic Rasa pick-me-up am I right? (Look back on our Ashwagandha herb profile to jog your memory on “yang!”)
Eat Your Weeds!
Yes...chicory is edible. And yes again, chicory is also a common weed (just like burdock root)! Its beautiful periwinkle blue flowers spike the sides of highways, fields, and plains all over the world. Chicory root is actually a staple of the Mediterranean diet which has been labeled one of the “healthiest diets on earth” and is commonly recommended by naturopathic doctors and nutritionists for people healing from chronic illnesses and diseases.
We’re not here to talk about diets, but we do want to talk about how yet another common medicinal weed is edible, tasty, nutritive, and contains the prebiotic fiber inulin (remember burdock root?). Plus, preliminary scientific studies also suggest that chicory could play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease (Lin et al., 2015). When it comes to medicinal herbal edible weeds, it’s kind of a win-win.
The Dirt On Chicory
Although we are clearly “pro-weeds” here at Rasa, there is some dirt on chicory that we have to share with you too. Don’t worry, chicory is considered a generally safe herb to use, but it carries similar cautionary notes as burdock does. Given chicory’s high inulin content, for those of us with inulin allergies, it is advised to stay away.
Chicory also contains sesquiterpene lactones which can cause allergic contact dermatitis for some people. If you have noted a reaction to other Asteraceae plant family members (think echinacea, calendula, dandelion, etc.) then it’s possible you could have a reaction to chicory since it is a member of this commonly allergenic family as well (Duke, 2002).
Since chicory is considered a cardiotonic herb, heed caution if you have cardiovascular disease or other heart conditions.
From Top to Bottom
Chicory works its magic from our taste buds through our liver, pancreas, and gut, all the way to how well we poop.
In addition to being a restorative digestion-enhancer, bowel regulator, liver decongestant, and nutritive herb, chicory also helps build the blood, support feverish states and symptoms, clear gallbladder and stomach Qi stagnation, and drain excess water retentive states (Holmes, 1989).
Isn’t it amazing when an herb does so much for the body as it weaves its way through?! If you’re feeling called to join in on the potty talk with us...drop us a line and let us know how Rasa helps your bowels and all the other important parts in between too.
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Duke, J. (2002). Handbook of medicinal herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Holmes, P. (1989). The energetics of western herbs. Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Press.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Liver: Anatomy and functions. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/liver_biliary_and_pancreatic_disorders/liver_anatomy_and_functions_85,P00676.
Lin, W., Liu, C., Yang, H., Wang, W., Ling, W., & Wang, D. (2015). Chicory, a typical vegetable in Mediterranean diet, exerts a therapeutic role in established atherosclerosis in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Molecular Nutritional Food Research, 59(9), 1803-13. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201400925.
Tierra, M. (1992). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.