As plants go, chicory is neither rare nor ephemeral nor difficult to find. It grows in ragged abundance along roadsides, in the scrubby soil along sidewalks, at the edges of the abandoned lot around the corner. It produces beautiful, pale periwinkle flowers over quite a long season, even through intense heat, and yet it could hardly be called ornamental. All parts of the plant are useful for humans, from the tender basal leaves in spring (a substitute for dandelion greens), to the abundant flowers (producing a natural yellow-green dye), down to the roots that have been dug, roasted, and ground for a coffee substitute in tough times (or any given morning if you live in New Orleans, which we did for many years).
Chicory has so many virtues, but no celebrity status in the plant world, simply because it is so abundant. It’s always there. And that’s precisely why we chose it as our touchstone, to serve as a reminder that nature is not a lifestyle brand, not something apart from our lives we have to travel long distances to seek in seclusion. Our ecosystem is the world around us each day, the greenery we pass on our daily walk without knowing what to call it, the strange bug we gently usher out the window, the fairy ring that pops up in the lawn and seems to disappear as mysteriously as it came.
Coming to know these species, as well as those in the meadow behind the park, or the forest trail you visit for hikes, has the power to transfigure a pretty landscape photo into an immersive family gathering, full of familiar faces, great joy, and pitfalls to be avoided. Our world is made up of a vast web of complex and deeply interesting relationships, and the more we know about it the more we can understand what it means to live well within it.
About the humans
Chicory is the love child of Chris Baker, a writer, educator and mycophile, and the beautiful biodiversity of the Hudson Valley where she lives with her partner and child. She has an M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and professional experience in the culinary, arts, and agricultural fields. Chris is a passionate lifelong learner, and a strong believer that knowledge is meaningful only to the extent it is shared.