Chicory


Here is some information that Robin found on Chicory, relating to the ID of a plant in the post: Wildlife On The Greenbelt posted on 23 August 2010. Thanks Robin for this information. And thanks to Michael Young, IDFG, for stimulating this discussion.

By Erin Creekmur
U.C. Cooperative Extension, El Dorado Co. Master Gardeners
Publication Date: August 6, 2004

While driving around El Dorado County this summer, you may have noticed the blooms of a delicate roadside plant with brilliant light blue sunrays tucked in at the base of small leaves. Cichorium intybus has many different names around the world; it’s known as succory in England, blue sailors in the southeast or, more commonly, as chicory. The slender branching stalk of this perennial herb has a basal rosette of finely divided leaves and a deep taproot with milky sap that resembles its close relative, the dandelion. However prevalent this plant is, it is not native to the US and at times has been included on invasive weed lists. It originated in Europe, with a rich history to follow.

Medicinal uses as a mild liver stimulant with low toxicity trace back thousands of years to Egypt and Greece. The leaves had a recorded use in Roman times as a salad green. In the eighteenth century, the renowned naturalist Linnaeus observed the flowers consistently opened and closed at fixed times of the day, which he incorporated into the first scheme of a floral clock. When Napoleon instituted a trade embargo in the early 1800’s, chicory roots were used as a coffee substitute. This practice spread by French colonialists over to America and chicory is still popularly used in Louisiana.

Today hybridized forms of chicory have been introduced into the home garden to suit an assortment of needs. The three main garden uses today are salad greens, a coffee alternative and witloof endive. ‘Radicchio’, a salad green with beautiful red-tinged leaves, is now successfully being grown year-round in California. The bitter young leaves of ‘Italian Dandelion’ can be collected in the spring as a distinctive salad green. ‘Brunswick’ and ‘Magdeburg’ are two varieties of root crops that can be dried, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. Chicory root has been widely promoted as a non-caffinated additive that can add a smooth rich flavor to your coffee. Witloof, a subspecies of ‘Magdeburg’ is transplanted in the fall and forced to blanch in the dark, creating a succulent Belgian endive. It is important with all of these varieties that they are not allowed to flower in order to preserve their optimal flavor.

However, wild chicory is a cherished wildflower that would be a great addition to your home garden. This tall airy plant transpires in early summer, providing showy blooms through the fall, opening early in the morning and vanishing by mid-day. Welcoming to both birds and bees, chicory is beneficial to wildlife gardens. Once established this is an easy plant to grow, being impartial to soil types and relatively drought tolerant. Traditionally, chicory has been considered an invasive weed, but has since been taken off most lists due to its benefits of being a highly nutritious foraging plant. At present it’s recommended to keep this self-seeding perennial in a controlled planting bed. The easiest way to establish wild chicory is to collect the light brown seeds in the fall and sow lightly in the spring when the soil is about 70o F. This method should give you about an 80% successful germination rate. So next time you’re on your way to work in the morning and you see the twinkling of little blue stars tucked along the roadside, remember the wonderful legacy and how influential this little weed has been.

Chicory is an example of a non-native plant that is well adapted to our climate.

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