Endive is a leafy vegetable that is rich in minerals, vitamins, and some non-nutritive components. Collectively, they act to give it most of its health benefits which includes improving digestion, managing diabetes, preventing gallbladder disorders, aiding weight loss, and improving vision.
Botanical name: Cichorium intybus
Other names: French endive, Belgian endive, Witloof, Chicory
French name: Endive
Spanish name: Achicoria Blanca, Endivia
Endives are the leaves of the endive plant, Cichorium intybus, a herbaceous plant of the botanical family Compositae. Cichorium is the genus of this plant, which contains another cultivated specie known as Cichorium endivia, otherwise known as true endive. Another specie within the same genus is the wild endive, Cichorium pumilum.
Endive possess a tough hairy stem about 30 to 100 cm in height. They possess stalked and unlobed leaves. Their flowers are usually light purple in color, and it flowers usually from July until October.
- Endives are cultivated for their leaves, which can be eaten raw as salad leaves or cooked to make different kinds of cuisines all over the world.
- Radicchio is a variety of endive which has red and green leaves, and is mostly referred to as red endive or red chicory. It has a bitter taste, and is used to add color and zest to salads.
- Root chicory or Cichorium intybus have been used in Europe as a coffee substitute.
- Brewers also use roasted chicory to add flavor to their stouts.
- Endive is also used as sweetener in food industries.
- Endive also has a long history of medicinal uses. Volatile oils from root chicory have been used to eliminate intestinal worms.
- In Germany, chicory is used as a folk medicine, where it is used as a tonic, and for treating everyday ailments such as gallstones, gastroenteritis, sinus infections, and cuts.
- In alternative medicine, chicory is one of the 38 plants that are used to prepare Bach flower remedies.
- The native Americans use a decoction of its roots as a wash, and apply its poultice to relieve chancres and fever sores.
- Endives are also used as forage for animals.
- Belgian endive is a sort of artificially grown plant, which is grown in dark, humid and hot places. This makes it to be somehow white in color and lower in nutrients and some substances than other chicory varieties. It has a very pleasant smell and texture.
- Belgian endive contains about 94.5% water, an amount very close to that of cucumber.
- It contains proteins in significant amounts, about 1% of its weight, an amount which is quite good for a fresh leafy vegetable.
- Belgian endive also contains carbohydrates in small amounts, of which inulin predominates. However, this vegetable contains virtually no fat.
- In terms of minerals, Belgian endive contains significant amounts of potassium, and trace elements like manganese, zinc and copper. It also contains small amounts of magnesium, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.
- True endive is however rich in manganese. It also contains significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Belgian endive contains very little amounts of vitamin A and C as opposed to its counterparts the green-leafed chicory or true endive, which are rich in these vitamins. However, Belgian endive is a rich source of folic acid, it provides 37 μg per 100 grams. It also contains vitamins B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin B6 in significant amounts.
- True endive on the other hand is very rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, folates, vitamin B5, and vitamin A
- Altogether, Belgian endive provides only 17 kcal /100 g of energy, one of the lowest amount any food can provide. While true endives provides just 23 kcal per 100 grams.
When eating endives, one may experience a slightly bitter taste. This taste is due to a substance that is also found in most varieties of endives in the genus Cichorium. These substances have been proved to have a choleretic and cholagogic action on the liver. The choleretic action involves an increase in bile production, while the cholagogic action involves facilitating the drainage of the gallbladder.
These same substances found in Belgian endive also serve as a tonic and an aperitif for the stomach. Due to these substances and other nutritive components, endives exert a number of effects to the human body. Continue reading to see some of its therapeutic applications.
Medicinal uses of endives:
- Manages diabetes
- Fights Gallbladder disorders
- Aids weight loss
- Improves digestion
- Improves vision
- Improves cognitive function
- Prevents neural tube defects
- Manages cholesterol
Belgian endive is considered a perfect food for the diabetics since it contains very few carbohydrates, and better still, the carbohydrates that are present are formed mainly of fructose, which is more tolerable by the diabetics.
Also, endives are rich in fiber. It is no longer news that high fiber diets help lower blood glucose levels and stimulate insulin production. Fiber achieves this by trapping sugar molecules during digestion, and then releasing them into the blood stream slowly, without causing any hike in blood sugar level. This way, the little insulin produced by type 2 diabetes patients will be able to cater for the available glucose in the blood.
As we have seen above, endive contains a series of bitter substances which help increase bile production and facilitate the evacuation of the gallbladder. Moreover, it contains virtually no fat. Thus, its consumption becomes recommended in cases of gallbladder disorders due to disruption of proper drainage, known as biliary dyskinesia, and also due to the presence of calculi, called cholelithiasis.
The inclusion of Belgian endive in weight-loss diets is highly recommended due to its provision of very few calories. It also possess little to no fat content. Moreover, its consumption produces a feeling of satiety which makes you consume less amount of food. What more proof do you need? Endive is worthy of your weight-loss diet, and of course you shouldn’t think twice before including it, as you have nothing to lose.
Fiber again! The high fiber content of endives can help improve your overall digestion process. It acts to improve peristaltic action of the gut in passage of food from the stomach to the intestine. It also improves the passage of stool down the large intestine, which is necessary in order to avoid conditions such as constipation.
You can read some tips here on “how to increase fiber intake“.
This benefit is associated with true endive or Cichorium endivia which is rich in vitamin A, and not Belgian endive, which is poor in this vitamin. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy eyes. It is important in preventing damage to the cornea, reducing eye dryness, and preventing eye ulcers. Its deficiency can lead to conditions such as night blindness.
True endives are a rich source of vitamin A, providing up to 36% of the daily recommended intake for this vitamin in just a 100 gram serving. This makes them a good food for those willing to improve the health of their eyes. The last time I checked, eyeballs cannot be transplanted. This shows you how important our eyes are, and why we must do everything in our power to protect them.
Improves cognitive function
Several components of endive, such as folates, potassium and numerous antioxidants are of great benefit to neurological function. Lower folate levels in the body have been associated with forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Potassium is also necessary for proper brain function. It has been linked to an improved blood supply to the brain. Its deficiency might result in “brain fog”. Antioxidants also help protect brain cells from free radical damage that can cause mental disorders and cancerous growths.
Endives provide significant amount of all the above nutrients. These nutrients and many other components collectively act to give them the power to improve brain function and boost overall cognitive ability.
Prevents neural tube defects
Endives are rich in folates or folic acid, a vitamin that has been found to prevent neural tube disorders such as spina bifida and anencephaly. These neural tube defects mostly occur during the first month of pregnancy, in most cases, even without knowing you are pregnant. This is the reason why expectant moms are advised to have enough folates in their body prior to conception.
And one way to add more folates to your diet is through the consumption of endives. Just a 100 grams of true endive, provides up to 28% of the recommended daily value for this vitamin.
If you ask me what the best medicinal component of endive is, I did probably say fiber. It again helps manage cholesterol level in the body by absorbing and eliminating excess amounts. Excess cholesterol in the body is very dangerous, as it can clump in our arteries and block the flow of blood to important organs such as the brain and heart. When that happens, conditions such as stroke and heart attack become the order of the day.