I hadn't seen chicory growing at this end of the holler until this year. Though the State of Tennessee lists it as an "invasive exotic pest plant" of "lesser threat" I think it's kind of cool. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) tends to grow in disturbed areas, so I'm not surprised I found plants close to the lane. In previous years I got all my pictures of chicory near the Pioneer spring or along Highway 63, but my 2011 photos of it will be from here in the holler.
If you are a coffee or herbal tea drinker you have probably heard of chicory and even had some. I was living near Boulder, Colorado about the time Celestial Seasonings got its start. Always curious about what's in stuff I'm eating, I read the labels of their teas and noted that many of the blends used roasted chicory (likely another variety, Cichorium intybus var. sativum).
Chicory has also been used widely by various cultures as an herbal medicine. People of the Cherokee Nation used an infusion of chicory root as a tonic for nerves. The Iroquois used a root decoction in a wash or poultice for chancres and fever blisters. Chicory is known to be toxic to intestinal parasites, and there is evidence that livestock eating chicory or chicory supplements may have fewer intestinal worms. In Europe it's been used as a tonic, and for treatment of such conditions as gallstones, gastroenteritis, and bruises.
Like other members of the Aster Family, chicory is a rich source of inulin, a polysaccharide with a variety of modern uses. It is used as a sweetener in many processed foods, and as an ingredient in yogurt because it stimulates growth and activity of friendly digestive system bacteria.
Wild chicory is a close relative of Cichorium endivia, or endive, a common salad green. Wild chicory leaves can be eaten, too, but because they are bitter compared to cultivated endive (also called chicory), most cooks recommend draining the water off before eating or mixing with other ingredients. Several traditional dishes from Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey make use of wild chicory leaves.