Chicory root has been used for thousands of years, and was popularly used as a coffee additive in 19th century France when coffee was scarce. The French noticed that chicory added new depth to the flavor of coffee and had additional health benefits. This tradition has waned in France as coffee became widely available again, but carried over to become part of New Orleans' unique legacy. However, you do not need to be in New Orleans to enjoy this delicious and healthful drink, nor do you have to ingest coffee at all. You can make roasted chicory root "coffee" right at home! From the earth to your mug.
When brewed with coffee, chicory root helps to offset some of the undesirable effects of coffee by protecting the liver. While I rarely consume caffeine, I noticed that an 8 ounce serving of New Orleans style coffee did not make me feel jittery, as 8 ounces of plain coffee normally would. It also had a delicious, deep, and rich flavor that was much smoother than regular coffee.
It is best to harvest these roots in the fall, after the plant has spent the summer months storing away carbohydrates. This makes for a sweeter tasting brew.
After harvesting, clean the roots well, being sure to remove all dirt. Then, chop the roots as finely as possible. Dry them in a dehydrator or in your oven on low heat. They must be completely dry before they can be roasted. To roast, you can put the roots in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until brown and fragrant. You can also roast the roots in a cast iron pan on a stove top.
You can buy roasted chicory root from your local herb shop, or online at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Note: Dandelion root is another abundant, liver-loving herb which tastes delicious when roasted and is often used as a coffee substitute. You can use dandelion instead of or in addition to chicory in this recipe.
You can also grind the roots and add to your coffee grounds. 10-20% chicory root is suggested, though you can add as much as you desire. This tastes especially delicious as a cafe au lait - mixed with 1/3 warmed milk (of your choice).
You can use roasted chicory to slowly transition away from coffee - adding a higher percentage of chicory each day until you are drinking 100% chicory root brew, which contains no caffeine.
I hope that you enjoy this delicious brew and the bounty of plants which grow abundantly right in your own backyard!