Chicory is a plant with many faces.
Common Name: Common Chicory
Scientific Name: Cichorium intybus
Family: Asteraceae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)
The "wild" Chicory is an unassuming plant and a great addition to the Forest Garden.
Belgian Endive is just one of many forms of Chicory.
In a similar way that Great Danes and Chihuahuas are very different forms of the same species (Canis lupus familiaris) the Chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) has been developed for a variety of uses. It may be a leaf vegetable in green, red/purple, or white/yellow that comes in a head or a dandelion-like leaf, a root crop used as a coffee substitute, and a forage plant for pasturing animals. It is a pioneer plant, a beneficial insect attractor, and helps build the soil. There is not much more we can ask from one plant!
Well known throughout recorded history, the Chicory plant was prevalent through ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Over the years, it has spread and naturalized over the world. There is likely a variety well suited to almost all but the most extreme locations on Earth.
- The Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has many varieties of leaf vegetable including Radicchio, Sugarloaf, Belgian Endive (aka French Endive or Witlof).
- True Endive (Cichorium endive) is a closely related plant, but is a separate species.
- Root Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) is a variety of Common Chicory cultivated for its root which is used as a coffee substitute.
- Some forms of Chicory will form heads, but these are usually annual or biennial varieties and not perennial species.
- Some perennial species of Chicory will form a head in the first year, but after that the plant ceases to form tight heads.
- The tight heads of Chicory are called "chicons".
Radicchio, a type of Chicory, comes in many varieties.
Grilled Radicchio (here with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar) is one of my favorites!
USING THIS PLANT
- Edible Greens – some varieties are developed for commercial production of salad leaves; a great, bitter, nutty-tasting leaf – perfect addition to mixed green salads; leaves can be cooked as any other green (just don't cook too long), and this reduces the bitterness.
- Edible Roots – roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute
- General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
- Insect shelter plant (especially hover flies, spiders, and parasitic wasps)
- Dynamic Accumulator – Especially potassium and calcium
- Pioneer Species
- Dye Plant - blue-ish dye from the leaves
- Pasture/Forage Species for ruminant animals
Yield: Not applicable
Harvesting: Year round. Greens are most tender and less bitter before flowering (Spring), but can be harvest through the growing season. The roots are best harvested Autumn through Winter.
Storage: Use fresh, may be stored as lettuce for up to a week. While there is no reliable information on storage of roots, I would imagine that roasted roots should last for some time before needing to be ground for coffee, although the flavor likely diminishes with time.
Chicory flowers are typically blue, but white and pink are possible.
Chicory flowers attract many beneficial insects like this Hoverfly.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information available.
Plant Type: Small to Medium-sized Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.
Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile. Also pollinated by bees.
Flowering: April - October (varies tremendously on the variety and zone)
No reliable information available, but as this plant self-seeds so easily, life span for an individual plant is not very relevant. Keep a patch healthy, and we’ll always have some available.
The roots of some Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) are grown as a coffee substitute.
The "wild" Chicory leaf strongly resembles the Dandelion.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 1-4 feet (30-120 centimeters) tall and 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) wide; not typically very small, but the flower spike can climb to 4 feet (120 cm).
Growth Rate: Fast
Some Chicory, like Puna II picture here, are used for animals on forage.
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade
Moisture: Medium moisture requirements
pH: tolerates a wide variety of soils (4.5-8.5)
Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider cutting back the flower stalks to extend the harvest of greens.
Typically from seed. Self-seeds easily. Large plants may be divided.
Almost none. Consider cutting back the seed heads if you don’t want seedlings to spread. Although, this is a plus in a Forest Garden almost all the time.
Spreads easily through self-sowing of seed.