Common chicory is a bushy perennial herb with blue or lavender flowers. Originating from Europe, it was naturalized in North America, where it has become a common roadside plant.
Its flowers have clear blue fluted petals with two or three flowers borne at each leaf joint and blooms from mid summer to mid autumn.
The root of the chicory plant is long and thick, like the tap-root of the dandelion. When dried, roasted and ground, it makes an excellent substitute for coffee. There is no caffeine in chicory, and it produces a more 'roasted' flavour than coffee does. Many coffee producers offer blends with up to 30% chicory, which cuts down on the caffeine content of your cup. But many folk enjoy a cup of 'coffee' made entirely from ground, roasted chicory.
It is a staple in Cajun-style red-eye gravy. Common chicory is also known as blue sailors, succory, and coffeeweed.
The chicons are blanched heads produced by forcing roots in warmth and darkness (also known as Belgian endives). These may be tossed in salads, used as a cup in appetisers or braised in butter as a vegetable.
Cultivation of Chicory / Succory
Site: Chicory likes a light and preferably alkaline soil in a sunny and open area.
Propagation: Sow in early summer; selecting Witloof variety for chions and Magdeburg or Brunswick varieties for "coffee" roots.
Growing: Thin or transplant to 18 inches apart. Chicory is not suitable for growing indoors. To grow chicons, dig up roots in autumn, cut leaves to 1 inch and trim 1 inch off root.
Bury well in sandy compost and water. Exclude light and move into a cellar or garage. Chicons are ready to eat in 3 - 4 weeks.
Harvesting: Gather leaves when young. Dig up roots in first autumn and chicons in winter. Preserve by drying the root and leaves.
Culinary Uses: Raw chicory can be used shredded in salads, adding extra taste and color. There are many different types of chicory, ranging in color. Chicory is widely grown in Italy, where red leaved chicories are known as 'radicchio.'
Many types of chicory are lifted in the autumn and are then either stored in a cool place, or the 'chicons' of some varieties (e.g. 'Witloof') can be forced in sand in a warm, dark place. Ground, dried chicory root is often used as a coffee substitute.