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What is Chicory?

Updated on July 18, 2018
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


The Fourth of July is known for fireworks. Some of the most spectacular fireworks happen along the roadsides when bright blue chicory flowers burst open. But only in the mornings. By the afternoon, the flowers have closed, not to open again until the following morning.

Chicory grows from a rosette of leaves at the base which sends up stalks that have both leaves and flowers.
Chicory grows from a rosette of leaves at the base which sends up stalks that have both leaves and flowers. | Source

What is Chicory?

Chicory is native to Eurasia. It was brought to North America by the European colonists as a medicinal herb that had been in use for 5,000 years. It has adapted so well to its new environment that it is considered invasive in several states.

It is a perennial plant, hardy in zones 3 through 8, that grows in full sun. Chicory grows like dandelions, with a long taproot and a rosette of leaves. The leaves can be eaten in salads. They are bitter like dandelions, so it is best to use young ones rather than the older larger leaves. Unlike dandelions, chicory sends up a stiff stalk 2 to 5 feet tall with leaves and flowers. Bloomtime is July through October. The flowers open in the morning and close about five hours later. This is because they are pollinated by bees which are most active in the mornings. On cloudy days, the flowers may stay open longer or all day.

The roots are also edible. When boiled, they taste like parsnips. The roots are most often roasted until brittle and brown, then ground and brewed like coffee. Prepared this way, the roots taste like coffee but without the caffeine.

Medicinal Uses

The milky sap of the plants was once used to promote milk flow in nursing mothers or to lessen it if there was too much. Bruised leaves were used as a poultice to reduce swelling. Root extracts were used as laxatives and diuretics.

Use as Livestock Feed

Once established and naturalized in this country (and other continents settled by Europeans such as Australia and New Zealand), chicory was used as forage for cattle, horses, sheep, rabbits and poultry. Because it doesn't dry well like hay, chicory is cut and fed as green plants to livestock. Modern science has determined that the tannins in chicory are toxic to intestinal parasites that plague livestock. Animals who are fed chicory have fewer worms.

Ranchers who raise horses consider the roots an excellent substitute for more expensive oats because of their fat and protein content.

Chicory coffee and beignets are a classic New Orleans breakfast
Chicory coffee and beignets are a classic New Orleans breakfast | Source

Use as a Coffee Substitute

Chicory has a long history of being used as a coffee substitute or additive. Its use became common in the South during the Civil War when Union naval blockades made coffee scarce. What once was a necessity has become a custom. Coffee with chicory added is now the signature drink of New Orleans.

So-called Camp Coffee, coffee and chicory, has been available in England since 1885. It gained in popularity there during the Second World War when coffee and other commonly used foods and drinks were rationed.

How to Grow Chicory

Chicory is easily grown from seed which is available from catalogs that specialize in native plants or wild flowers. If you live in Colorado, you will not be able to get the seeds. Many states don't allow catalogs to ship seeds of invasive plants to their residents. Chicory is considered invasive in Colorado and companies are not allowed to ship the seed to Colorado addresses.

You can sow your seeds in the spring after your last frost when the soil temperature reaches 65 to 75 degrees Farenheit. Surface sow the seeds which means that you want to just sprinkle them on top of the soil. The seeds need light to germinate so you don't want to cover them. They will germinate best if they have good contact with the soil. The best way to achieve that is to lightly tamp the seeds into the soil. An easy and fun way to do it is to walk over the seeds in your garden! Germination should occur within 1 to 3 weeks after sowing. For best results, thin your seedlings to 10 to 12 inches apart to give them plenty of room to grow.

The next time you are admiring the pretty blue chicory flowers adorning the fields, consider gathering a few plants, including the roots, to add to your morning coffee or lunchtime salad.

© 2017 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Dora, thank you for reading and commenting!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      15 months ago from The Caribbean

      Very useful information. Thank you for sharing the facts about chicory and its benefits.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Bronwen, thanks for sharing that info. Fascinating. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      15 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      During World War II chicory was grown on Phillip Island and other places in Australia; it was used as a coffee substitute when it was almost impossible to get the real thing.

      Thanks for an interesting article.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Alicia, I agree! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think that chicory flowers are so pretty. Thanks for sharing the interesting information about the plant.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Neither did I! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      15 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That was really interesting to read. I had no idea chicory had so many benefits.


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