Known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, wild endive, but of course most commonly; common chicory. It is a member of the daisy (asteraceae) family.
Common chicory is a woody perennial herbaceous plant that is native to western Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe, though is has luckily become naturalized all over the planet.
This plant is cultivated all over the planet not as a show-stopping ornamental plant, but for culinary and nutritional purposes. They are most widely known as an alternative to coffee, and they’ve been traditionally used as such for centuries.
Though this isn’t going to be one of the prettiest plants in your garden, chicory will quickly become a wildly valuable member of your edible plant garden. If you’re looking for something a little bit more gorgeous, head on over to our list of Wonderful Flowering Plants where we cover specimens from all over the planet.
What does Chicory Look Like?
Chicory flowers, when they finally bloom, are wonderfully delicate and charming. Each individual chicory flower is in itself an inflorescence – otherwise known as a group of flowers. Flowers bloom between the months of July to October.
Each petal on the flower is actually 5 petals fused together. This structure forms a floret. A chicory flower is most commonly light lavender purple or very light blue, though they can rarely be borne as a white flower or pink flower as well.
Chicory flowers are also effected by the movement of the sun. Flowers will usually open before sunrise and close by the afternoon of the same day. Some folks even claim that the color of the flowers seem to change throughout the day – as if they are reflecting the color of the blue sky as it changes.
*Want to hear something adorable? A Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus referred to the chicory plant as a member of his “floral clock”. He dreamed of having a garden filled with flowers that bloomed at different times of day, thus indicating the approximate time rather than a clock. Isn’t that the dreamiest thing you’ve ever heard?
Leaves are borne sparsely along a stem. They are un-lobed and lanceolate in shape with toothed margins. A leaf is commonly 4-12 inches in length and 1-4 inches wide, though leaves closer to the base of the stem are usually larger. Each leaf is a dark matte green color.
Chicories are woody perennial plants and grow tough and grooved stems. Stems are covered in fuzzy hairs and can grow to be up to 1.5 metres in height.
How does Chicory Reproduce?
The stamens of chicory flowers are covered with white pollen. When a pollinator, like a bee or a hummingbird, comes to visit the flower the pollen will stick to them and be brought to another flower. This is how pollen is transferred from flower to flower.
Once a chicory flower is pollinated, it will develop fruit filled with seeds that drop to the ground right below the plant. The seeds are too heavy for wind pollination, and therefore new plants won’t pop up in random places unless a seed has been carried by a bird or small mammal.
Once they have produced seeds, flowers will then end their life cycle. Each flower will close for its final time and eventually fall off within the next couple of days. This means that winter is approaching!
Where do Chicory Plants Grow?
Chicory is originally a native plant to Europe, north Africa, and western Asia. The history of cultivation of this plant dates back to ancient Egyptian times, and their growing range spread from there.
Chicory was brought to North America by early European colonists who were well aware of the value of the plant. In North America it became the main source of coffee substitute used in prison systems, and New York and New Orleans became enormous distributors of chicory.
Chicory can be found growing in the wild in disturbed areas. Examples of these are abandoned lands, pastures, landfills, and especially roadsides. Wild chicory can grow in USDA growing zones 3 through 10.
How do you Propagate a Chicory Plant?
If you’re curious about introducing chicory into your edible garden plethora, know that is really doesn’t take a gardening expert to get the swing of things. If you’re already familiar with growing greens and lettuces, it should be too much trouble at all! The easiest way to grow a plant is chicory seed.
Chicory seed can be sown indoors in their own little planting pots at least 6 weeks before they are due to be moved outdoors. In warmer climates they can be brought outside anywhere from September to March, though in cooler climates they can be brought outside only once the last frost has passed.
Pick a place in your garden that receives full sun or partial shade. Ensure that they are provided soil that is filled with organic matter (don’t be afraid to mix in some shovelfuls of compost) and that it is well drained.
Their planting order should be in rows that are at least 12-34 inches apart, and then 6-10 inches apart from one another. Seeds need plenty of sun and plenty of water during their germination period.
What are the Growing Conditions of Chicory Plants?
Knowing that chicory is able to grow prosperously along roadsides, is a good indicator that it is a rather low maintenance plant. They thrive in disturbed areas! That being said, if you’re looking to make most of the harvest season, there are some specific growing requirements to keep in mind.
Chicory plants prefer to exist in soil that is high in organic matter and very well drained. Soil should be kept consistently moist. Fertile soil should also be kept at an acidity level occurring between 5.5 and 7 on the pH scale.
Chicory is a water loving plant, and they should be received 1-2 inches of water per week. Just be sure that their soil never goes completely dry.
Though they are able to tolerate partial shade, chicory performs best when it receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Though they are a rather cold hardy plant, chicory grows most vigorously when temperatures are below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They are sensitive to cold when they are seedlings, so ensure they aren’t brought outside until the threat of frost has passed.
Though they are able to exist in nutrient poor soil, an edible plant like chicory will always perform better in soil that is nutrient rich.
Using a nitrogen heavy fertilizer will encourage leafing and blooming. 1/4 cup of this fertilizer can be applied about a month after the plant was originally planted, and this will accelerate the plants growth!
Since chicory isn’t really planted as an ornamental plant, pruning is not a regular practice in its maintenance. A more wise way to maintain this plant is by very vigilant weeding, and maintaining a heavy layer of mulch over the topsoil to ensure that soil doesn’t dry out, and to prevent weeds from growing.
All in all, chicory is a very low maintenance plant and it would be difficult to do it any real harm on accident. Simply ensure that it’s soil doesn’t dry out (as it is a drought intolerant plant) and that it doesn’t exist in full shade conditions.
How is Chicory Used?
Chicory is mainly grown as an edible plant. The most popular use is as a coffee substitute – where the roots are roasted, ground, and there you have a coffee substitute powder! Chicory root coffee is very common in places like the deep southern United States, in South Africa, and southeast Asia as well. Sometimes ground chicory root is mixed with coffee beans or regular coffee.
Chicory root is actually naturally caffeine free, and this is why it makes for a great ground coffee substitute. It has a similar flavor and provides similar satisfaction, but it helpful for those looking to cut down on their caffeine intake.
Edible Roots & Leaves
Raw chicory root can also be cooked as you would a parsnip! Roasted chicory root makes for a delicious starchy side to a meal, and a delicious snack as well. (Hot top: toss your roasted chicory root in maple syrup, it’s delish!)
The edible leaves can be used like a salad green. However, the leaves are filled with a chemical called sesquiterpene lactones which creates a very bitter taster, and so some prefer to cook chicory leaves. The taste is similar to bitter greens like arugula or kale. Chicory leaf is marketed as “belgian endive” though they are not actually related to endives at all!
In Belgium, chicory root is used to help flavor beer! It is a common additive to flavor a stout beer, or to help create the classic flavor of a Belgian style witbier.
There is also a product called chicory root extract. Chicory extract is taken as a tonic to help with issues like indigestion, upset stomach, loss of appetite, or anxiety.
What are the Nutritional Benefits of Chicory?
Not only is chicory edible but it’s actually incredibly nutritious as well. It’s filled with dietary fiber and is added to yogurt as a prebiotic fiber.
Chicory root fiber is highly digestible, contains low soluble fiber, and it high in protein and healthy fats as well. It makes for a very popular substitute for oats for horse feed.
Additionally, it contains vitamin A, vitamin b6, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, and manganese. Roots contain 20% inulin which is a polysaccharide that is very similar to starch. Chicory inulin is common in other members of the daisy family.