Thursday, 27 October 2016


“A weed is but an unloved flower.” - Ella WheelerWilcox

Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family, usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. It is also grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and is now common in North America, China, and Australia, where it has become widely naturalized. “Chicory” is also the common name in the United States for curly endive (Cichorium endivia); these two closely related species are often confused.

The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature, reaching back to ancient Egyptian times. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae” (As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance. Medieval monks raised the plants. A common meal in Rome, “puntarelle”, is made with tender chicory sprouts.

Nowadays, chicory may be cultivated for its leaves, usually eaten raw as salad leaves. Cultivated chicory is generally divided into three types, of which there are many varieties:
Radicchio usually has variegated red or red and green leaves. Some only refer to the white-veined red-leaved type as radicchio, also known as red endive and red chicory. It has a bitter and spicy taste, which mellows when it is grilled or roasted. It can also be used to add colour and zest to salads. It is largely used in Italy in different varieties, the most famous being the ones from Treviso (known as radicchio rosso di Treviso).
Sugarloaf looks rather like cos lettuce, with tightly packed leaves. This may be eaten in slads when very young and tender, or it may be boiled and consumed as greens similar to spinach. This variety is also common in Greece.
Belgian endive, known in Dutch as witloof or witlof (“white leaf”) has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. It is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light and so preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness.
Here are some salad recipes for chicory.

Root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) has been cultivated in Europe as a coffee substitute. The roots are baked, roasted, ground, and used as an additive in normal coffee. ). In 1766, Frederick the Great banned the importation of coffee into Prussia leading to the development of a coffee-substitute by Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster (died 1801), who gained a concession in 1769/70 to manufacture it from chicory in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795 there were 22 to 24 factories of this type in Brunswick. In Napoleonic Era France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee, or as a coffee substitute. Chicory was also adopted as a coffee substitute by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, and has become common in the United States, especially in the South. It was also used in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885.

Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavour to stouts (commonly expected to have a coffee-like flavour). Others have added it to strong blond Belgian-style ales, to augment the hops, making a witlofbier, from the Dutch name for the plant. Around 1970, it was found that the root contains up to 20% inulin, a polysaccharide similar to starch. Inulin is mainly found in the plant family Asteraceae as a storage carbohydrate (for example Jerusalem artichoke, dahlia, yacon, etc). It is used as a sweetener in the food industry with a sweetening power 1⁄10 that of sucrose and is sometimes added to yogurts as a prebiotic.

When flowering, chicory has a tough, grooved, and more or less hairy stem, from 30 to 100 cm. The leaves are stalked, lanceolate and unlobed. The flower heads are 2 to 4 cm  wide, and usually bright blue, rarely white or pink. Of the two rows of involucral bracts, the inner is longer and erect, the outer is shorter and spreading. It flowers from July until October. The achenes have no pappus (feathery hairs), but do have toothed scales on top.

Chicory is used a forage plant and is highly digestible for ruminants, having a low fibre concentration. Chicory roots are an excellent substitute for oats for horses due to their protein and fat content. Chicory contains a low quantity of reduced tannins that may increase protein utilisation efficiency in ruminants. Some tannins reduce intestinal parasites. In New Zealand there has been quite extensive hybridisation to produce the Puna variety of chicory that is excellent for forage use. Many other forage hybrids have been developed.

The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the “Blue Flower” (eg in German language “Blauwarte” ≈ ‘blue lookout by the wayside’). It could open locked doors, according to European folklore. In the language of flowers, a non-flowering chicory stem indicates “frugality”, while a piece of chicory root given as a gift means: “You are a miser”. On the other hand, a flowering stem of chicory carries the message: “open your heart to me.”

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.


  1. The colour is stunning, Nicholas.

  2. I love the photo because of the vivid colours and the beautifully formed blossoms.