Chicory (Cichorium intybus), a popular substitute for coffee is a perennial herbaceous plant commonly found in Europe, Australia and North America. Ancient Egyptians cultivated chicory as medicinal plant, coffee substitute, vegetable crop or animal forage. Several varieties of this plant are grown for their buds, leaves, which are used in cooking and also for their roots that are dried, ground and used widely as an additive and substitute for coffee. Chicory is also known by several other names such as blue weed, blue daisy, blue dandelion, coffeeweed, cornflower, wild endive, Belgian endive etc. Chicory is caffeine free and hence is considered to be generally healthy. For people who have a problem with caffeine intake, chicory is the best and healthy alternative. Endive which is confused with chicory in US is another species of chicory.
Nutritional value of Chicory
Chicory is low in cholesterol, saturated fat and calories. It is a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, niacin and folate. Several essentail minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium can be found in good amounts in this plant. Chicory is also a rich source of many phenolic compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties. It also contains the highest concentration of inulin, a kind of fiber that has many health benefits and medicinal uses. Inulin carbohydrate does not increase blood sugar which makes it suitable for diabetes. Chicory is also cultivated as source of industrial inulin.
Health benefits of Chicory
Chicory has been used since ancient times in herbal medicine due to the numerous health benefits it can offer. In fact, it has been recorded as an effective remedy for many illnesses and ailments. Keep reading to know the many important benefits of chicory.
Chicory has antioxidant properties
Chicory has powerful phenolic antioxidants that fight against the oxidative stress and damages caused by free radicals in the body, thus protecting against early aging and also many diseases like cancer.
Chicory and eye health
Chicory is a good source of vitamin A that is highly important and useful for the eyes. It is used for making a topical poultice for reducing swelling and inflammation of the eyes.
Chicory is beneficial for diabetics
Studies suggest that inulin contained in chicory helps in lowering high blood sugar by overcoming insulin resistance and by increasing the uptake of glucose. Various animal studies confirm the claim of Chicory beneficial for diabetes. Because of these properties, chicory is considered to be a potential remedy for managing diabetes.
Chicory for weight loss
Chicory is known to lower your appetite and aid in weight loss. It reduces the fat levels in the body. Inulin found in chicory can give you a feeling of fullness, without adding too many calories or causing an increase in the blood sugar levels. Since chicory has diuretic properties, frequent urination can prevent water retention by eliminating the excess water in the body. This helps in reducing the water weight and can even help in reducing fat.
Chicory for digestive health
As mentioned earlier, chicory is a great source of dietary fiber that helps in maintaining the health of your digestive system. By adding bulk to your stool, fiber helps in promoting normal bowel movements and in preventing constipation. Inulin, contained in chicory helps in maintaining a normal and healthy balance of bacteria in your intestines, thus improving digestion and the easy absorption of nutrients by your body. Since chicory has mild laxative properties, it is useful as remedy for digestive issues like indigestion, constipation dyspepsia.
Benefits of Chicory for heart
According to a study conducted in animals, chicory was found to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels. It was found that chicory increases the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The fiber in this herb binds to cholesterol, thus enabling its easy removal from your system.
Like many other vegetables, chicory is also a good source of potassium that can neutralize the effects of sodium, maintain fluid balance in the body and contribute to keeping the blood pressure under check. Chicory’s ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol makes it a heart protective food that helps in preventing dangerous cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and atherosclerosis.
Chicory boosts your immune system
Probiotics are found to be extremely efficient in improving the immune system. Chicory contains oligosaccharides that are probiotic and help in maintaining the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut and thus boosting your immunity. Cichorium intybus has potential benefits in immune-madiated disorders and can modulate immune responses.
Chicory has anti-microbial effects
Chicory contains chicoric acid, which according to studies has antimicrobial properties as it been found to protect your body against a type of bacteria that is found around the teeth. The same study found out that chicory has anti-fungal effects as well.
Chicory protects your liver
According to a study published in “Food and Chemical Toxicology” in September 2010, the consumption of chicory may help in protecting your liver. The study conducted on male rats that were given a daily dose of chicory showed regulation in the levels of total cholesterol and total lipids in the liver. Another factor that is considered to contribute to the liver-protective properties of chicory is its ability to inhibit damages caused by free radicals, due to the presence of potent antioxidants. It is used as cure for jaundice in traditional Iranian medicine form. It is also used to cure hiccups caused by liver obstruction and inflammation. In India, seeds of chicory are used to cure liver disorders while roots are used to treat jaundice, liver inflammation, gout and rheumatism.
Chicory improves kidney health
Chicory has diuretic properties and hence its root extract is often used as a diuretic. A diuretic is a substance that increases the production of urine. As the frequency of urination increases, it helps in detoxifying your body by getting rid of the toxins that gets stored in the kidneys and liver. In Turkey, decoction made from root is used to cure kidney stone.
Chicory and cancer prevention
According to different cancer studies, chicory extract has been associated with a reduction in cancer growth. Although several studies are being conducted, the exact mechanism of this action still remains unknown. Some studies suggest that the cancer preventing property of chicory is due to the presence of fructans in it that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Furthermore, the phytochemicals and polyphenol antioxidants found in this herb play an important role in preventing different types of cancer including colon cancer and breast cancer.
Chicory for stress and anxiety
Chicory is known to have sedative properties that are helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, thereby preventing the harmful effects these conditions can produce on your body. By relieving stress and anxiety, chicory is extremely helpful in reducing your risks of developing serious health problems like heart disease, insomnia, premature aging, and cognitive decline. Due to its sedative property, chicory can also help in inducing sleep, which is very beneficial for people suffering from sleeplessness, who have to depend on sleeping pills to get some sleep.
Chicory relieves arthritis pain
Studies show that chicory has potent anti-inflammatory properties and hence it has long been used as a remedy for reducing the pain associated with arthritis. This quality makes it useful as a treatment for conditions like osteoarthritis. According to a study conducted in 2010, 70% of people who were given chicory treatment had significant improvement in their osteoarthritic pain. It is also effective as an anti-inflammatory agent for obtaining relief from muscle pains, aches, and joint pain.
Chicory improves bone health
Inulin found in chicory has been known to help in improving calcium absorption and also in increasing bone mineral density. Chicory is a great source of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus that are associated with maintaining the proper strength and health of bones.
Chicory for premenstrual syndrome
Chicory helps in balancing hormones and is a great aid for alleviating premenstrual symptoms like stomach cramps and back pain.
Chicory for skin problems
Chicory can be applied as a poultice on the skin to reduce inflammation and swelling. It is helpful in promoting the fast healing of wounds.
Side effects of chicory
Chicory provides several health benefits, but like all other herbs it is also likely to cause certain side effects. Individuals who are allergic to ragweed, daises, marigolds and chrysanthemums may have the chances of developing allergic reactions to chicory. These reactions may include severe itching, hives, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, pale skin, swelling of the face, dizziness, wheezing, or loss of consciousness. Should you experience any of these reactions, it is advised to seek immediate medical care. Chicory may cause skin irritation in some people, which usually subsides within a few hours after it is washed off the skin.
Precautions and warnings
Chicory may induce menstruation and cause abortion and so pregnant ladies are advised not to take this herb orally. People having problems with gallstones should consult their doctor before using chicory as it can increase the production of bile and aggravate the symptoms.
Chicory is not only a wonderful substitute for coffee but is also a versatile and above all a highly nutritious food that may improve your overall health and lower your risks of serious diseases. The consumption of chicory has increased considerably owing to its health benefits and medicinal effects. Although all of its purported health benefits are not confirmed with scientific proof, chicory does offer several potential health benefits, both short-term and long-term.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Rasbak, Tompkins County Flora Project