Chicory: growing, care & uses of common chicory


I am a qualified gardener and horticulturalist and love everything that grows! Whether it's a shrub, a tree, a useful plant or a supposed weed: for me, every plant is a little miracle.
In the garden I look after my 13 chickens, grow fruit & vegetables and otherwise observe how nature manages and shapes itself.

Favourite fruit: Blueberry, apple
Favourite vegetables: Braised cucumber, kale, green pepper

With its beautiful blossoms, common chicory delights us along roadsides and also enriches our cooking. What’s more, chicory roots have long served as a locally-grown alternative to coffee.

Common chicory
With its lovely shade it enriches our roadsides [Photo: Vladimir Mashin/]

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus), also known as wild chicory, is a native plant in Central Europe, which has accompanied us for hundreds of years. If you purchase common chicory, you can enjoy coffee from its roots and tell time with the help of its flower clock. This is because the flowers of chicory open at about 5am and close again at 11am. Incidentally, common chicory is the ancestor of our present-day chicory salads.

Chicory: origin and characteristics

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is among the most common native wild plants, also occurring naturally in western Asia and northwest Africa. Due to its versatility, it has now been spread to many other places in the world. As its name suggests, chicory is often found along roadsides and is hard to miss, especially in mid-summer when it is in bloom.

In ancient Egypt, common chicory served as a useful and medicinal plant and is still used as such today. Being native to our area, it has been given many vernacular names, such as blue dandelion, coffeeweed or blue daisy. Nowadays it is mainly called chicory.

Cichorium intybus
Chicory is native to our region [Photo: Madlen/]

As a wild plant, chicory is genetically the ancestral mother of some important cultivated and useful plants. Several varieties are known to be originally derived from chicory, for example:

  • Chicory salads: chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum), radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum) and winter chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum f. cylindricum)
  • Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum)

Is chicory perennial? Chicory is only biennial. In the first year it is in the vegetative phase and forms a rosette of leaves. In the second year, the generative phase takes place, with flower and seed formation.

Chicory plant
The leaf rosettes of the chicory in the first year [Photo: NANCY AYUMI KUNIHIRO/]

How do I recognise common chicory?

  • Common chicory is a somewhat woody, biennial and herbaceous plant. It belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae), as can be seen from its flowers.
  • The flower heads are 3 to 4 cm wide and of the two rows of bracts, the inner is longer and erect, the outer shorter and spreading. Chicory blooms from July to October with showy, usually light purple or lavender flowers.
  • The flower heads open before sunrise and begin to close in the afternoon. Each individual flower opens only once and fades after one day.
  • White pollen, which is visited by bees and butterflies, collects at the tips of the stamens during the early morning.
Chicory flowering
Chicory is unmistakable when it is in flower [Photo: Orest lyzhechka/]
  • When in flower, chicory has a tough, furrowed and more or less hairy stem.
  • It can grow to a height of 1.5 m.
  • The leaves are petiolate, lanceolate and unlobed; 10 – 32 cm long and 2 – 8 cm wide.
  • Chicory, like dandelion, contains a white milky sap.

Chicory confusion: without its flowers in the first year, chicory looks confusingly similar to dandelion. Both also have a comparable bitter taste and milky sap. Dandelion is not poisonous and is used in cooking similar to chicory.

Chicories can reach a stately size in suitable locations [Photo: Manfred Ruckszio/]

The most beautiful chicory species and varieties

Despite their obvious beauty, more useful than ornamental varieties of common chicory have emerged.

  • White chicory (Cichorium intybus ‘Albus’): white chicory is a selection of common chicory that bears white flowers, giving it its name.
  • Radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum): radicchio usually has red or red-green coloured leaves that form compact heads. Some refer to only the white-veined, red-leafed type as radicchio, also known as red endive and red chicory. It has a bitter and spicy flavour that mellows when grilled or roasted.
Colourful chicory
Radicchio brings colour into the kitchen [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/]
  • Winter chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum f. cylindricum): it forms loose, green heads, similar to romaine lettuce. Winter chicory is a lettuce that can be stored for a long time. If sowing is done late in May, the lettuce will be much more bitter.
  • Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum): also known as Belgian endive, this chicory subspecies is harvested as pale or red buds, depending on the variety. Compared to other chicory subspecies, this chicory is very mild in flavour. Whilst Belgian endive is the same plant botanically as some other types of chicory, the process by which it is grown is very different. It is forced to grow in little to no soil and in complete darkness. Find out more about forcing chicory in our dedicated article on Belgian endive.
Chicory in processing plant
Chicory is produced in processing plants [Photo: Photoagriculture/]
  • Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum): root chicory is processed into a coffee substitute. It has particularly thick roots and is even used for the production of plastic.
Chicory being harvested
Fresh harvest of chicory roots [Photo: Ruud Morijn Photographer/]

Planting chicory: sowing, location and more

Most often, the cultivated forms of chicory are planted but you can also establish the wild form in your garden. Chicory is not a demanding plant, as evidenced by the fact that it thrives on neglected roadsides. It prefers a well-drained, mineral-rich and calcareous soil. A subsoil that is too humusy, moist and rich in nutrients even inhibits its development and prevents reseeding. Thin such soils with sand or gravel. If you want to harvest the roots, make sure that the substrate is loosened before planting.

Chicory growing in sidewalk
Chicory tolerates poor soils very well and has a competitive advantage here [Photo: hjochen/]

Try to give common chicory full sun. It also tolerates partial shade, but thrives best with six or more hours of sun per day.

Tip: chicory loves alkali-rich soils. So, if you have lime on hand for the garden, mixing it in at planting time can help the plant grow.

Sowing chicory: sow the plant outdoors only after the last frosts. Sow two seeds at a time at a distance of 40 cm. They are covered with a thin layer of soil or sand and germinate after two to three weeks. The weaker seedling can be removed after emergence.

Pile of chicory seeds
The seeds of the chicory are collected and stored, or sown directly [Photo: Imageman/]

The seeds can also be grown indoors from the beginning of April. To do this, use a special growing soil, loose and low in nutrients. Our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost is peat-free, unlike commonly available growing substrates. At 20 ° C, germination takes only one to two weeks. After germination, the seedlings are best placed at a cooler 15 ° C and in a bright location so that they develop normally and do not become yellow. After the last frosts, the seedlings are placed in the garden at a distance of 40 cm part. You can then put the plant in a pot and put it on the balcony or terrace. The long root has enough space in a slender, tall container.

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Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
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The right care

If cultivating in a container, you should administer a liquid fertiliser every six weeks. Apart from that, chicory does not require special care. It is best to use a primarily organic liquid fertiliser as chicory cannot tolerate too sudden a surge in nutrients. An organic fertiliser like our Plantura Liquid Flower Food prevents this slight over-fertilisation because the nutrients are available quickly, but not in one fell swoop.

Small chicory seedlings
After emergence, the chicory should be singled out [Photo: Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/]

As a rule, pests dislike chicory. But aphids, such as the black bean aphid, may well acquire a taste for the sap-rich plant. Chicory usually copes well with pests. However, if their presence harms it, you can read about how to fight aphids naturally.

Do I need to protect the plant in winter? Chicory is native to our area and does not require winter protection.

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Liquid Flower Food, 800ml
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Sometimes chicory can also become a nuisance in the garden. However, the seeds are not spread by the wind like those of the dandelion, so they do not pop up in random places – unless a bird carries the seeds out. Keep your eyes open and pull out any seedlings that sprout where not wanted. Cut off the flowers when they have bloomed to prevent reseeding.

Propagating chicory

Chicory is propagated by seeds. In late summer, they are formed abundantly, so you can harvest them and dry on a kitchen towel for a week. Store the seeds in a cool, dark place such as in a garden shed. However, you can also reseed directly in the autumn, which often produces more vigorous seedlings.

Close up of chicory leaves
In the first year after sowing, only the leaf rosette emerges [Photo: Hem Stock/]

Use and effect of chicory

All parts of the plant are edible. Chicory is also used as cattle feed and can be consumed by humans as well as animals without hesitation.

The leaves of the chicory are edible raw but older ones in particular usually taste bitter. This flavour is appreciated in certain cuisines, for example, in Italy and also in the southern part of India. In Albania, the leaves are used as a substitute for spinach or as an ingredient for fillings and are mainly steamed or marinated in olive oil.

The juicy leaves do not dry well and should be used immediately. You can store the harvested greens in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Wash them just before use for a longer shelf life. Wet leaves rot faster. Boiling and draining the water softens the bitterness of the leaves.

Chicory in a salad
The foliage of the chicory is mostly steamed [Photo: FVPhotography/]

Preserve the roots for use as a coffee substitute by cleaning them and scraping off the husk. Cut the roots into centimetre-sized pieces and roast them on a baking sheet until dark brown. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on how thick they are. You should keep an eye on the root pieces as they roast, turning them occasionally to allow for even drying. If you notice a coffee-like smell, it is time to take them out. It is best to store them in a cool, dark place so as not to lose any flavour. Crush the roasted roots like coffee beans and brew your own regional “coffee”.

The numerous bitter and tannin substances, as well as the inulin in the root, make chicory a medicinal plant with various uses, including naturopathy. However, scientific evidence for their use in conventional medicine is rare so far. However, tea made from chicory roots is proven to help digestive problems. To make this, brew 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of fresh or dried, crushed root in 200 ml of water and strain after five to seven minutes.

Chicory next to coffee mug
Enjoy decaffeinated coffee from chicory root [Photo: 13Smile/]

Is chicory healthy?

Chicory, especially its root, is a healthy addition to any diet. The root contains the prebiotic fibre inulin, which is also found in Jerusalem artichoke. Inulin regulates insulin levels and serves as food in the intestines for important intestinal bacteria in our body. However, too much fibre can also lead to digestive disorders, which is why chicory should not be consumed in excessive quantities.

Chicory in capsules
Chicory is frequently used in naturopathy [Photo: gigello/]

An ancient medicinal plant whose effects are better supported with scientific studies is Fenugreek. You can also enjoy its special flavour as a tea or as a spice.

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