Friday, August 5, 2016

Chicory: The Plant That Waits

This may look like a crazy lady frolicking in a field of wild flowers, but.. Well, actually, that’s exactly what it is!

This isn’t just any old flower, though. These little blue guys are called Chicory, and there’s more to them than meets the eye. Chicory has many medicinal properties. It can be used for many liver and gall bladder problems and also helps with nervous tension and insomnia. Many parts of the plant are edible and the roots can be made into a coffee substitute. It can be used for some heart problems as well.

I love Chicory. I love how it adorns the roads at this time of year. I love how it grows in poor soil where nothing else will grow and how it makes those spots so beautiful and colorful and alive.  

It’s fitting that Chicory helps the heart.

When I was a little girl my mother told me a story about this plant that stuck with me all these years. She said that in Germany, where she comes from, there is a legend about a woman who lived in the times of the Crusades. She was engaged to her love, who was a knight. He was sent  off to the war, and she accompanied him out to the road to see him off. Every day she went out to the road to see if he was coming back. He never did. He died in some far off land, but she never stopped waiting for him to come home.  Eventually she turned into a flower that is the Chicory we know today. In German the plant is called Wegwarte (the one who watches at the road side).

My mother emigrated to the United States from Germany after World War II. Her father (my grandfather), a school teacher, was conscripted into the German army. Like the knight in the story, he too never came home. To this day, we don’t know what happened to him, how he died, where he died. My mother was a young girl at the time. I picture her like the girl in the story, eternally waiting by the side of the road for her dad without knowing he was lost forever.

Karl-Friedrich, my grandfather
My mother out for a bike ride with her father and brother

For me, Chicory embodies that aspect of waiting that is present in my life, and maybe all of our lives. As I drive down highway 19 and see the Chicory in bloom, I wonder:

What are we all waiting for?

Are we waiting for our loved ones to come home? For our lives to change? Are we just waiting, hoping things will get better?

This is just my own personal connection to Chicory. I don’t often use this plant when treating animals because it needs to be made into a decoction, which is used in volumes too big to be convenient. But I do use tinctures of other plants, like dandelion, prickly ash, and nettles, many of which I make myself.  All of these can be found on my prescription shelves: dandelion alongside doxycycline, prickly ash alongside prednisone.

In our complicated modern world, I think we often forget our own very visceral connection to the Earth, that we are living beings just like frogs and flowers and prairie grass. We hear a lot these days about our effect on the natural world (case in point: global warming). But I think it is just as important to remember that the natural world has an effect on us as well (example: using Chicory to treat your insomnia). The natural world is totally enmeshed in our lives, from our legends and stories to our innate biology. It reconnects us with ourselves.

Funny how a little flower can inspire all these musings, isn’t it?

One final fact: my grandfather was an amateur naturalist of sorts; he also studied the medicinal properties of plants. I guess I know where I get it from..


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