If you did not hear it already, while I was at Gettysburg I was a guest on one of my favorite public radio programs, The World, produced by the BBC and PRI. I talked about how Gettysburg was an important moment in the history of emergency medicine and explained how there is a direct link between the battle and the Boston Marathon bombings 150 years later. Check it out here:
Kyle's Interview for The World
|The fictitious portrayal of a field hospital in the Gettysburg Cyclorama|
Since I was away all that time though, the garden has been filled with weeds! It has been a lot of work just trying to catch up with all of those weeds and get the garden back into some semblance of a presentable appearance. It doesn't help that it has been very hot and humid here lately.
One weed that we are all seeing a lot of right now is Chicory. If you don't know what chicory is, you are undoubtedly already very familiar with it, but just didn't know what it was called. At this time of year we see it growing everywhere from the side of rural farm roads and highways to vacant urban lots. It blooms in distinctive powder blue flowers, sometimes called a Blue Daisy or Blue Dandelion. Many people seem to find it an eyesore, but I have always thought that, at least while in bloom, it's quite pretty.
Common Chicory is actually native to Europe, but has been so common in the United States for two hundred years or more that many people think of it as a native wildflower. Its most iconic use during the Civil War was as a coffee substitute for the Confederacy, which was starved of the genuine article by the Yankee blockade. For such use, the root was harvested, baked, ground and used like coffee grounds. However, while chicory has become the iconic form of Southern ersatz coffee, rye, wheat, corn, and other grains were actually far more popular coffee substitutes within the Confederates. Chicory as a coffee substitute was actually much more common in Europe during the Second World War. People have also used chicory as an animal fodder and as a human food, eating the leafy greens,which are fairly bitter.
What interests me more about chicory is its traditional medicinal use, including during the Civil War. Most substantial, I think, is its quality as an anthelmintic, meaning that it will kill and expel worms and other parasites from the body. Volatile oils in the plant make it a highly effective anti-parasite medicine and for this reason it is still a popular additive to livestock feed.
Chicory was also used to treat a variety of liver and gall bladder ailments, such as jaundice and gall stones; it was believed to stimulate a healthy production of bile. Chicory was also employed as a diuretic (promoting urination) and a laxative. It was included in digestive tonics, under the belief that it stimulates the appetite and helps to cure gastritis and other digestive ailments. It would appear that practitioners of herbal medicine still advocate the use chicory in these capacities today.
I can't say that I have ever experimented with chicory in any of these ways. Nevertheless, I think it changes our understanding and appreciating of those scrubby weeds on the side of the road when we remember how useful and valuable they have been to people not so long ago.