Two Wild Alternatives to Coffee

Skip the joe and try out these cheap coffee alternatives
How to identify Chicory
Chicory, both useful and beautiful. Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh/Flickr

Most people are big fans of the dark caffeinated brew known as coffee, and they become rather grouchy when this beloved beverage is not available. Even as far back as the 1700s, mountain men, trappers, and explorers were carrying coffee into the wild places of North America, commonly carrying green coffee beans to be roasted over the campfire, as needed. But what happens when you run out? Even though you can’t replicate the caffeine you are missing when you are stuck out in the wild without your java, you can brew several beverages which are reminiscent of coffee. Here are two of the best-tasting wild coffee alternatives.


Dandelion drink
Extremely common, and in bloom for the majority of the summer months. Tim MacWelch

The bane of golf courses far and wide, the lowly dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), is a familiar lawn and field weed which has a basal rosette, typically of jagged, toothed leaves, radiating from the root crown. The flower stems are smooth, hollow, and each one bears a solitary yellow head consisting solely of ray flowers, which later produces a “puffball” seed cluster of numerous single-seeded “parachutes.” The plant has a deep taproot. This is the part we can use for a coffee-like beverage, as directed below.


A common coffee extender in the South, chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Europe and now naturalized across the hemisphere. The basal rosette leaves are similar looking to dandelion leaves, and the flower stalk has smaller alternate branching leaves. The blue composite flowers have ragged square edges to the rays. This plant may live for several years, coming back from a taproot or cluster of taproots. Leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. These roots can be roasted to make a coffee substitute.

Read Next: How to Identify the Elderberry Bush

Roast It Up!

Once you’re satisfied that you have positively identified dandelion or chicory, dig up the roots of 10–20 plants for a good sized batch. Here’s your recipe for a healthy, caffeine-free coffee alternative.

  • Preheat your oven to 350 F while you wash the dirt off your roots, and cut them into half-inch bits.

  • Spread the roots on a cookie sheet and bake until the roots are chocolate brown, and almost ready to start burning. It usually takes 30–40 minutes, but watch them very closely toward the end so that your hard work doesn’t get burned up.

  • Store these roasted grounds for a month or two in a breathable container like a paper bag, or you can freeze them for longer-term storage.

  • To make your dandelion or chicory coffee, pour boiling water into a coffee mug and add one ounce of roasted root for every cup of water used. Cover the mug with a saucer or some other lid. Let the brew steep for 10 minutes. Finally, sweeten it to your taste, and enjoy your drink.

What’s your favorite coffee substitute? Please share your preference by leaving a comment.