Wild Food Foraging: Catnip, Chicory and Wild Mint

James Churchill shares his foraging stories of picking wild mint, catnip, and chicory, and recipes for mint teas and blackberries.

| September/October 1970

Chickory plant

Chicory is known as a coffee substitute the world over and tons of it are used in the south for a coffee adulterate. You can make chicory coffee by digging the plants and cutting off the leaves.


Summer is moving along swiftly here in Wisconsin. Chicory, along the roadsides, is high enough to wave its blue flowers in the slightest warm breeze and wild mint is very noticeable. The well-known catnip—another mint—is also easily recognized by the fragrance it floats on the morning air and, up in the woods, another gift of nature is coming into its own. I got up early today and picked enough for breakfast in just a few minutes. No adjectives that I know will do justice to this fruit: The first blackberries of the year.

Here's how I find, recognize and prepare these four wild foods:

We are fortunate because chicory has chosen to grow—and grow, and grow—near one fish pond on our homestead. We have two patches, each as large as a small house. These volunteer gardens of almost solid chicory would keep me in "coffee" and greens for the year if I utilized them. Anyone who lives in the settled regions of the United States, however, should be close enough to chicory to be able to gather all they want.

Chicory is found frequently in vacant city lots and along most country roads. The plant can be recognized easily by folks who know dandelion, because the young leaves look like slightly wider and deeper-green dandelion leaves.

In early summer the chicory sends up a sturdy stem. This stem has joints about every three inches from which grow narrow leaves that look like they could belong to another plant. From the junction of the narrow leaves and stem a flower bud will grow. When this flower bud is mature it opens—on some kind of a temperamental schedule—to reveal ragged blue flowers that are about one inch in diameter. In short, if you find a plant with leaves like a dandelion and a tall stalk with blue flowers growing out the center, you can be pretty sure you've found chicory.

Chicory Recipes

Chicory can be used as a green in the spring by trimming the tender leaves before they are as tall as a tea cup. Sort out dead leaves and grass and wash the remaining greens twice. Drop them in boiling water and boil for about two minutes. Remove, drain and discard the water.

8/14/2016 11:07:17 AM

Hello in page #2 you said to dig the chicory root then cut off the leaves, what's the purpose of cutting the leaves off? Does it change the flavor of the roots? Or is it simply to harvest the leaves to eat? thank you for this article

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