Survival Foraging & Gardening

Survival Skills: How to Make Chicory Root Coffee in the Field

We all have our vices. There’s always that one thing that we just can’t live without. Or so we think. So what happens if your dark master is the coffee bean, and you get stranded without its rich and flavorful brew? Luckily, there is a weed that can be used to make a pretty darn good–albeit caffeine-free–facsimile.

Chicory Coffee

The humble and often scorned chicory is a plant that is so common and so hardy that you’ll even see it growing in the cracks of the sidewalk, not to mention most lawns and fields across America. Chicory is full of surprises too. In addition to being edible from flower to root (raw or cooked), it also makes a coffee flavored beverage.

I know, it’s hard to believe that you can turn weed roots into java. It seems as unlikely as turning lead into gold. But unlike alchemy, weed root coffee making is real.

To get started, find yourself a patch of chicory where no one has recently sprayed any weed killer or other poisons. Be certain that it’s chicory by selecting plants that are starting to produce the classic chicory leaves, with attached dead stalks from the previous year. Thanks to our mild winter, the leaves are out earlier than normal this year. For further proof of identity, any broken chicory leaves or stems should exude a slightly milky sap. The leaves should be relatively hairless, with no teeth or small teeth. As with all edible plants, use a field guide for confirmation, and if in doubt, DON’T use it.

Once you’re satisfied with the plant’s identity, dig up the roots of 10 to 20 plants. You’re looking for roughly a half-pound of roots for a good sized batch. Cut the tops from the roots, as they are not needed for the coffee, but save the tops. You can saute the tops in butter or oil to make a vitamin-rich cooked green.

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 about to start burning. This usually takes 30 to 40 minutes, but watch them closely, as you don’t want them to actually burn.

These roasted grounds will keep for a month or two in a breathable container, like a paper bag, or you can freeze them.

To make your chicory coffee, pour boiling water into a coffee mug and add one tablespoon of roasted chicory root for every 8 ounces 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.