Chicory Plant Uses: What To Do With Chicory Plants

Chicory Plant Uses: What To Do With Chicory Plants

By: Teo Spengler

You’ve probably heard of chicory and you may even have this ornamental plant in your garden. What is chicory used for? Read on for information on chicory plant uses, including tips on what to do with chicory leaves and roots.

What to Do with Chicory?

Chicory is a hardy perennial plant that comes from Eurasia where it grows in the wild. It was brought to the United States early in the country’s history. Today, it has naturalized and its clear blue flowers can be seen growing along roadways and in other uncultivated areas, especially in the South.

Chicory looks like a dandelion on steroids, but blue. It has the same deep taproot, deeper and thicker than a dandelion, and its stiff stalk can grow to 5 feet tall (2.5 m.) tall. The flowers that grow in the stem axils are between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) wide and a clear blue, with up to 20 ribbon-like ray petals.

If you are wondering how to use chicory, you have many options. Some gardeners include it in the backyard plot for its ornamental value. The blue blossoms open early in the morning, but close up in the late morning or early afternoon. But there are numerous other chicory plant uses.

What is Chicory Used For?

If you ask about different chicory plant uses, be prepared for a long list. Anyone spending time in New Orleans is likely to be familiar with the most famous use of chicory: as a coffee substitute. How to use chicory as a coffee substitute? Chicory coffee is made from roasting and grinding the large taproot of the plant.

But ways of using chicory from the garden are not limited to preparing a beverage. In ancient times, Egyptians cultivated this plant for medicinal purposes. Greeks and Romans also believed that eating the leaves promoted health. They used the leaves as a salad green, calling it the “Friend of the Liver.”

This trend faded and by the 17th century, the plant was considered too bitter to go on the table. Instead, it was used for animal forage. In time, gardeners in Belgium found that the very young, pale leaves were tender if grown in the dark.

Today, chicory is also used medicinally as a tea, especially in Europe. If you are wondering how to use chicory in this manner, you make the tea from chicory roots and use it as a laxative or for skin problems, fevers and gallbladder and liver ailments.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician or a medical herbalist for advice.

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How to Grow Vegetables: Chicory

Cutting Chicory, scientific name Cichorium intybus, is an erect, woody, perennial herbaceous plant that produces bright blue flowers.

Several varieties are being cultivated. In the kitchen they are used as blanched buds (similar to Endives) and salad leaves while roots from the variant sativum are normally ground, baked, and then used as a coffee additive and substitute.

This plant is also grown as a forage crop for livestock and is typically found on roadsides, both in its native Europe and in places where it has become neutralized such as Australia and North America.

Amateur gardeners do not commonly grow this herbaceous plant even though it is reasonably stress-free to grow and provides a crop of leaves starting from early summer until mid-autumn

Lifted roots when stored in the dark produce chicons, which is a great delicacy in the winter months.

As a poor coffee substitute/additive, the roots are usually baked then ground and are used as a mixture with coffee with ratio 40:60.

In various parts of the globe, chicory is used exclusively to produce an intriguing hot beverage. Chicory is also grown for tis leaves that are excellent in making salads.

Certain varieties such as witloof chicory (Belgian endive) are grown primarily for their chicons. These are small blanched leaves that are tightly packed, which are typically forced indoors during winter.

Let 'em Grow: Chicory

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Aunt Bett said: "There's two things you'll need, food and medicine. You've got both right here. Let 'em grow." She pointed to chicory. With that gorgeous blue bloom, who could consider it a weed anyway?

I don't find chicory growing as abundantly here in western Kentucky as it grew on the other side of the state where I grew up. Of course it's much hotter and drier here, so that makes a difference. Its blooms appear in late summer so as a weed, it doesn't have much of a chance against rampant weedeaters who chop it down before the bright blue blooms begin to shine.

*Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a native of Europe, brought to us by settlers for its edible and medicinal value. It can be found in most of North America.

*Chicory contains calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, niacin, vitamin C and is rich in vitamin A (necessary for good eyesight).

*It is a healthy tonic, a mild diuretic and laxative and in addition to helping to improve eyesight, it is used herbally as a treatment for gout.

*Chicory helps with liver functions and acts as a mild stimulant.

*All parts of chicory are edible.

*Young leaves can be mixed into a salad alone they have a bitter taste.

*Leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach.

*Roots can be cooked in ways similar to other root vegetables.

*Chicory can be added to coffee or used as a coffee substitute. If using as coffee, roast roots until they are dark brown, then pulverize.

*Make chicory juice by blending chicory flowers, seeds and roots. It can be used alone as a tonic or is especially beneficial to eyesight when mixed with the juice of carrots, celery and parsley.

Chicory: Let 'em grow.

* Before gathering greens, be sure they have not be en treated with herbicides .

* Weeds are nature's way of providing nutrients to topsoi l. Leave a garden fallow for a season, notice the weeds that grew there while you weren't watching. Those weeds are there to provide the elements that are missing from your soil. They are nature's repairmen smart little weeds know exactly what your soil needs most and they come straight to the rescue.

Planting Chicory

Planting radicchio and endive is relatively straightforward. Both are cool-season vegetables but should be protected from frost to prevent crop damage. Belgian endive, however, is grown a bit differently, since it requires a period of forcing.

Growing Zones

Most chicories are perennial but grown as annuals. They thrive in zones 3-9.

Soil Requirements

Chicory requires loose, fertile soil to thrive, but it can handle anything from sandy to clay soil as long as it’s well drained. It prefers a pH between 6.5 and 7.2. Work in several inches of aged manure into the soil before planting.

Sun Requirements

Growing chicory needs full sun, but it can handle a little shade.

Starting Chicory

Start chicory indoors approximately 2-4 weeks before the last frost date. Germination may take as long as two weeks. Start seeds indoors 15 weeks before the first frost date for a second fall harvest.

Seeds may also be direct sown in the spring and again in late summer for fall harvest in cooler areas. Hot weather will cause chicory to go to seed.

Plant seeds 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep.

Witloof varieties have a longer growth period because they have two stages of development. The first harvest provides a leafy head that looks much like lettuce and the root at this time is also harvestable. If you re-plant the root, however, it produces a tight bunch of foliage that’s known as Belgian endive.


Harden plants off for 1-2 weeks before putting them in the ground. You can transplant seedlings 5-6 weeks after starting, or once the plants have 5-6 leaves.

Container Growing

My favorite way of growing chicory in my garden is in containers. In my experience, it does quite well in containers that are at least 10-inches wide in diameter. As long as I’m careful not to let the soil dry out completely, I’ve never had much trouble growing it.


Give plants 9 inches between each other and between rows.

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