A member of the chicory family, endive is also commonly referred to as escarole in some grocery stores. Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, this plant gained its roots in the US around the mid to late 1800s and has continued to gain popularity in American cuisine ever since. Although not quite as hardy as other leafy vegetables, endive plants still prefer somewhat cooler weather, and exposure to too much heat will cause the leaves to develop a more bitter flavor. However, some gardeners consider this the plant’s most redeeming quality, so growing techniques may be altered based on personal taste.
While some varietals of endive can be difficult to find in the US, the Full Heart Batavian endive was crowned the All American Selection crop way back in 1934 and has maintained its position as a garden favorite here in the States ever since. A broad-leaved, non-heading varietal, Full Heart Batavian foliage is large, smooth, and dark green in color with a mild flavor and nice crunch. The central leaves of this plant are white to yellow in color and tend to be more tender and less bitter than the outer leaves. To keep these leaves white and sweet, tie the outer leaves of the plant together with gardening twine a couple weeks before harvest to keep the sun from reaching the center of your plant.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 6–12″ after thinning.
Space Between Rows: 12″
Germination Soil Temperature: 45–75°F. Ideally 55–65°F.
Days for Germination: 5–14
Sow Indoors: 2 months before the last spring frost. Transplant outside after 4 weeks.
Sow Outdoors: Sow seed directly outdoors every 2 weeks from spring to early summer and late summer to fall. Endive may overwinter outdoors in mild winter climates.
Like most leafy greens, warm weather brings out the bitterness in the endive. The onset of winter’s first frost will bring out a delightful sweetness, so we recommend sowing in late summer or early fall and harvesting just before winter. In climates with warm days and night, endive will not reach its ideal flavor profile, so planting above USDA Zone 10 is not recommended.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: As these plants love sun but aren’t stoked on heat, try a lower intensity bulb, such as a standard fluorescent, for growing indoors.
Soil: Prefers a loamy, nutrient rich, well-drained soil. Can grow in slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.8 but prefers a pH between 5.8 and 6.0.
Soilless: Will germinate in most soilless mixes but prefers high levels of nitrogen found in blood meal or coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic system. Endive is commonly grown hydroponically using rockwool in an NFT system.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Like other leafy greens, however, endive does not like soggy roots, so aim to keep the soil moist but not saturated.
Nutrients: Is a moderate to high feeder and is particularly fond of nitrogen. Application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers such a bone meal, blood meal, or mixes with higher percentages of nitrogen to phosphorous and potassium every 3 weeks will help keep plants nourished. Composting your soil before planting will also help seedlings flourish.
Foliar: Application of a fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Deficiency(s): If your plants start to brown around the top of the leaves (tip burn), this may mean your soil is deficient in calcium or that you are over-fertilizing. Try reducing your amount of fertilizer first. If this doesn’t do the trick, apply a calcium-rich foliar spray and see if your leaves bounce back.
Rotation: Practice a 3-year rotation away from all other members of the daisy family.
Companions: Grows well with radishes, turnips, beans, cucumbers, hot peppers, sage, and chervil. Avoid planting with members of the allium family.
Harvest: Both the leaves and whole heads can be harvested from this plant. Leaves may be taken at any time, but be cautious of over-picking. A good rule of thumb is to always leave at least 2/3 of the plant. If harvesting whole heads, wait until the center of the plant begins to fill with leaves and cut the stalk about an inch above soil level.
Storage: Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Keep in mind that, like other greens, they will not keep for very long, so it’s best to harvest for immediate consumption.
Helpful Hint: While the endive plant is considered both nutritious and delicious by many folks, its bitterness can be off-putting for those not familiar with the flavor. If this sounds like you, try cooking your endive (we recommend trying it braised, yum!) prior to eating it as the heat reduces the bitterness of the leaves.
Preserve: Not recommended.
Prepare: Can be prepared like most other leafy greens by chopping for salad or sautéing and using in stews and soups. Some recipes also encourage grilling the heads or leaves.
Nutritional: A low-calorie, nutrient-packed leafy green, endive leaves contain significant quantities of vitamin(s) K, A, C, folates, inulin, dietary fiber, and a number of nutritious B vitamins, such as B1, B3, B5, and B6.
Medicinal: Although not commonly used as a “treatment” for ailments, some preliminary studies have noted that because of its high content of inulin, endive may help in reducing levels of glucose and “bad” cholesterol, which may be of particular value to those suffering from diabetes.
This nutrient-packed side dish of Sautéed Greens makes a great companion to any entrée but is also a delicious and nutritious meal on its own!