Coffee Substitutes

Have you quit drinking coffee to still your jittery nerves, only to discover you miss that rich, java flavor? Well, you can prepare your own tasty brew from stuff you have in the kitchen, from veggies you raise yourself, or from plants you find around you.

All through history, and especially in hard times, people have made coffee from barley, wheat, rye, oats, rice, dry peas, beans, flax, or cornmeal by grinding the grain to a coarse meal, roasting until dark brown in coffee roasters or the oven, and brewing like coffee. While these coffee substitutes may or may not yield the taste you want, they do make good extenders, allowing you to use part of your coffee budget for more nutrient-dense food items.

You can make a better-flavored brew from the roots of plants in your garden. Chicory is a dual-purpose vegetable that provides you with nutrition-packed salad greens and roots that can be made into coffee. Jerusalem artichoke, a relative of the sunflower, produces tubers that are crisp and crunchy eaten raw or chopped into a salad, but that roasted, also make a good coffee substitute. Beets and parsnips, too, can serve this purpose.
Here’s what you do: cut the roots or tubers into small pieces, spread on cookie sheets, and dry in a warm oven or inside a hot car until completely dry. Next grind in a coffee grinder, spread on the cookie sheets again, and put in a 350-degree oven to roast, stirring often, so as not to burn your potential brew. When the grounds are a rich, dark brown, the color of coffee, you’re ready to take them out, cool and store in jars.  Brew as you would your coffee.

Wild plants whose roots you can use are dandelions and burdock, which looks like wild rhubarb in its first year and grows tall in the second year to produce the hooked burrs that gave the inspiration for velcro. Fall is the best time for  digging, as the plants deposit their reserves for winter and spring growth in their roots. Early spring is also good, before the plant has grown much. Burdock is best dug at the end of its first year. If in spring you accidentally dig a second year plant, you can still salvage the outer part of the root for coffee. The inner core will be woody and hard and you won’t be able to chop it. After digging, prepare and roast exactly as you would the garden-raised roots and  brew for coffee. Once you try burdock-root coffee, you may not want to go back to your comfortable coffee habit. But don’t harvest them all. Leave some for seed.

Other plants that have been used for coffee substitutes or extenders are potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, chestnuts, acorns, cotton seeds, okra seeds, persimmon seeds, and asparagus seeds. Bread crusts and hardtack have  also been tried.

With a look around and a little imagination, you might be able to come up with a workable coffee substitute yourself.


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