(Genus: Cichorium intybus - Family: Asteraceae)
Chicory and its origins
A perennial herbaceous plant, Chicory has a distinct and bitter taste. There are a number of varieties available which can vary in colour and appearance. Some chicory cultivars are grown for their leaves and used in salads, while others are grown for their root which can be baked and ground to be used as a coffee substitute.
It is native to Europe, North America and Australasia and easily naturalises, so is often found in its wild form. It is one of the oldest herbs mentioned in recorded literature.
How to Plant Chicory
A hardy perennial, Chicory is very resistant plant but prefers to grow in a temperate climate. It does not cope with temperature fluctuations and will struggle to grow in intense cold conditions or dry heat, it prefers humidity.
Depending on the variety, Chicory can be sown throughout the year, some even in winter. Plant directly outdoors, setting from mid-April to August. Sow the seeds in rows with 25cm spacing between the seed holes and 30cm between each row. Make the seed holes 0.5-1cm.
Small seedlings can also be successfully cultivated. They should be at least 10cm high and carrying 8 leaves. Ensure that only the root of the plant is covered.
Chicory thrives in most soil types as long as there is no stagnant water. The optimum soil will have a slightly acidic PH. Fertilise the soil pre-sowing with xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx (xx g/m²). It will require two further doses of the same fertiliser; the first when 3-4 leaves have appeared or immediately after transplanting, using xxg/m² of fertiliser and the final similar dose a month later.
Chicory requires constant irrigation, if the soil is too dry the leaves become very bitter, too wet and they will rot.
When to harvest Chicory
Many varieties of Chicory are noted for their vibrant blue flowers, although they can also have white or pink flowers and it is typically in flower from July to October.
Chicory is harvested when the weather begins to turn cold, from late summer to October. Expect to achieve 1.5-3kg of chicory per m2.
The roots and the leaves should be kept in the fridge and covered with paper to prevent moisture from rotting the leaves.
Did you know
Chicory is a good detoxifying agent and can be used to stimulate a sluggish bowel, it also aids digestion. It is packed with vitamins A and C, it also contains B1, B2 and PP but to a lesser extent.
A low calorie food, it is often added to winter salads because of its rich and distinct taste. Equally, it can be used as an ingredient in cooking and even in ice-cream!
Some varieties of chicory can be “forced” to produce chicons. In late winter, extract the Chicory from the ground and cut the foliage right back, cut the roots also to approximately 20cm.
Plant the trimmed chicory in a deep pot and cover to completely block out the light. Place in a frost-free area. After several weeks, the chicory will start to produce tender, white chicons; they can be divided from the main plant and then plant as normal in the spring.