Chicory, scientifically known as Cichorium intybus, is a versatile and hardy perennial plant with attractive blue flowers. It is grown for both its nutritious leaves and its roots, which are often roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Chicory plants have a rosette of deeply toothed leaves and can reach a height of 2-3 feet.
Origin: Chicory is native to Europe, but it is now widely cultivated worldwide.
Usage: Chicory leaves can be harvested for use in salads or cooked as a green vegetable. The roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute or used in herbal teas. Chicory is also grown as a forage crop for livestock.
Interesting facts: Chicory has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including aiding digestion and acting as a mild diuretic. It is also known for its beautiful blue flowers, which attract bees and butterflies.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: Chicory is a hardy plant that is relatively easy to grow.
Temperature and Light: It prefers cool to moderate temperatures, with an optimal range of 50°F to 75°F (10°C to 24°C). Chicory can tolerate full sun to partial shade. In hot climates, some afternoon shade can help protect the plants from excessive heat.
Soil: It grows well in various soil types but prefers well-draining soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. Sandy or loamy soils are ideal. Ensure the soil is free from rocks and debris before planting.
Water: Chicory has moderate water needs. Water the plants regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. During dry periods, provide supplemental watering to prevent drought stress.
Planting: Directly sow chicory seeds outdoors after the last frost date in your area. Prepare the planting area by loosening the soil and removing any weeds or debris. Sow the seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep, spacing them about 6-8 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to a final spacing of 12-18 inches.
Maintenance: Chicory requires minimal maintenance. Remove weeds that compete with the plants for nutrients and water. Apply a layer of organic mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.
Fertilizer: Chicory doesn't require heavy fertilization. If your soil is poor, you can apply a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, as it can promote lush foliage at the expense of root development.
Pests and Diseases: Chicory is generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, keep an eye out for snails, slugs, and aphids. Use organic pest control methods if necessary.
HARVESTING AND STORAGE
Harvesting leaves: You can start harvesting chicory leaves when they reach a suitable size, usually around 6-8 inches in length. Cut the outer leaves from the base of the plant, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing. Harvesting regularly will encourage the plant to produce new leaves.
Harvesting roots: To harvest chicory roots, dig them up carefully using a garden fork or spade. Wash the roots to remove soil, and trim off any excess roots and foliage. Dry the roots in a well-ventilated area until they become brittle. Store the dried roots in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Common name: Chicory
- Latin name: Cichorium intybus
- Growth habit: Perennial rosette
- Life cycle: Perennial
- USDA Zones: 3-9