Learning something new every day

Today I was out walking with the Ramblers, who are Britain’s largest walkers rights organisation.  They, amongst other things, protect access to the countryside and help safeguard footpaths for all. Local groups organise regular walks in and around their local area.

I joined a couple of weeks ago because it seemed to tick lots of boxes for me. I love to walk and since I lost my dog 3 years ago, miss the ‘excuse’ to go out and engage with the elements on a regular basis. Although I run regularly I still missed walking, not only is it great exercise but it is also good for mental well-being. Walking with these groups looked like a great way to meet new people that perhaps I wouldn’t ever get to meet and to explore new parts of my local area.

So today I’m walking with this lovely group, probably about 20 of us in the rural Essex countryside.

The sky is greyish and cloudy but there is some blue peeping through. It is fresher than of recent weeks and a lovely breeze is blowing. Perfect goldilocks walking weather, not too hot and not too cold, just right for shorts and tee shirts, no further layers required!

We walk along late summer hedgerows with sloes and crab apples beginning to ripen, we pass cows and calves, a row of bee hives on one field edge and someone even spots an egret. Very lovely.

But one field is edged with ragged weedy plants that have the most vivid blue flowers on. Several of us are curious.

Someone eventually says it is chicory. I had no idea that chicory had such a lovely flower but it does.

When I got home I looked it up and apparently chicory is, amongst other things;

A member of the dandelion family.

Can be grown as a forage crop for livestock.

Varieties are (I knew this) grown for salad leaves.

The root can be baked and ground and used as a coffee substitute and food additive. I remember Camp Coffee from childhood which was this strange brown liquid, looked like brown sauce and lived at the back of the cupboard! I’m really not sure that anyone ever drank it! But apparently you can still buy it! This liquid is 26% chicory essence, the rest being water, sugar and coffee essence and is mainly used now as a home baking ingredient for coffee cake, coffee buttercream and the like.

Chicory root contains essential oils and are used in Bach Flower Remedies.

But my surprising fact is that the root also contains a substance called inulin, discovered in the 1970‘s, this is now extracted and used in the food industry as a sweetener and is added to yogurts as a prebiotic.

So there you go! Walk, talk and learn. What’s not to like?

an Essex ramble