If you’ve ever tried New Orleans style coffee, you know the particularly warm and nutty flavor of chicory, an easy to grow perennial that’s usually treated as an annual. If grown in spring or summer, it will send up a stalk with blue daisy-like flowers late in the season. Try planting in the fall, especially in warmer climates, since a light frost before harvest will make the leaves sweeter. In the US, curly endive is at times called chicory, and while they are indeed related, they are not the same plant. Confused? We are! But that doesn’t make either plant less delicious, so we recommend growing both.
Garnet Stem Catalogna chicory is a beautiful variety of this flowering gem, cultivated for the culinary and medicinal uses of its leaves and roots. The rosette of toothed leaves, each up to 6″ long, resemble dandelion. Red-stemmed leaves can be harvested anytime after the first month of growth for use in salads, imparting a slightly bitter taste.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/4″
Space Between Plants: 6–8″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–75°F
Days for Germination: 10–15
Sow Indoors: 8 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: Sow every 2 weeks beginning in April for summer harvest and/or every 2 weeks from late summer to fall for a winter crop.
Prefers more moderate climates, growing best between 60–70°F, but chicory can withstand temperatures as low as 20˚F. Be aware of planting your seeds too late in the spring or too early in the summer: exposure to extreme heat in its youth can cause chicory to turn bitter. If overwintering your plants in Zone 8 or below, cover plants with a natural mulch or cloth to protect it from extreme frosts. Your crop should return healthy and ready for the next growing season!
Natural: Full sun. Partial shade in hot weather.
Artificial: Standard fluorescent lights should suffice if starting your plants indoors. Be sure to keep lights at least 6″ or higher from the plant to keep them from becoming overheated.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained, loamy soil but will grow in most soil types. A soil pH of 4.5–8.5 will allow plants to grow but 5.5–7.0 is preferable. If your soil is especially deficient in phosphorous, you may need to add fertilizer prior to planting.
Soilless: Will germinate in most soilless mixes such as well-rotted manure, vermiculite, and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic system.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Due to its large taproot, chicory is relatively drought resistant; however, it prefers soil that is evenly moist but not saturated. Aim for 1–2″ per week.
Nutrients: A light feeder, chicory generally does not require heavy fertilizing. It can, however, benefit from added calcium and phosphorous if your soil is deficient in these nutrients.
Foliar: Plants can benefit from a spraying of liquid kelp or a compost tea every 3 to 4 weeks.
Pruning: Can grow rapidly and bully the rest of your garden beauties if not kept in check. Watch your chicory and clip any branches that start to misbehave.
Companions: Grows well with carrots, other leafy greens, and fennel.
Harvest: Can be harvested as baby greens by pulling up the entire plant or by cutting 1–2″ inches off the top. The entire globe may also be harvested by cutting the main stem just above the soil. If harvesting leaves, pull from the outside. These will grow back and can continue to be harvested until they become tough and overly bitter.
Storage: Will keep for up to a week if refrigerated.
History: For many years, chicory has been used all over the world in place of coffee, particularly in financially tight times. Its large tap root is dried, crushed, and filtered much like regular coffee beans; however, it has been described as having a much earthier taste than the “real deal.” During the Great Depression and Civil War, chicory became a staple in many households in the US since coffee beans were either too pricey to purchase or were on the wrong side of a blockade of unfriendly forces. Unfortunately for these folks, chicory lacks caffeine and thus gives less pep to your step. Maybe that’s why everyone looks so sad in old portraits…
Preserve: Leaves may be blanched and frozen while the root can be dried.
Prepare: The leaves of the chicory plant can be prepared in a similar manner to many other leafy greens and are usually eaten raw. The baby greens can be sautéed or steamed and added to any dish of your choosing. The root may be ground after it’s dried and either added to your favorite coffee mix or even brewed on its own!
Nutritional: Rich in vitamin(s) C, E, and A as well as many minerals including potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorous.
Medicinal: Some studies have shown that chicory can act as a mild laxative, contains certain compounds that may act as a sedative for the nervous system, and can be beneficial for liver health. It’s also been used historically as a topical treatment for inflammation.
Warnings: Individuals with allergies to ragweed and related plants should use caution if consuming chicory for the first time, as reactions have been recorded in individuals with these sensitivities. Due to its effect on the liver, those suffering from gallstones should also consult a physician prior to consuming the plant.
For a new early-morning experience, try this Roasted Chicory Recipe instead of your standard cup o’ joe.
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