Chicory is a biennial herb that grows wild in many parts of the country although it is not indigenous to North America. Both the leaves and roots of the chicory plant are useful. It is a cool season herb that can be grown in usda zones 3 - 9. Chicory can also be grown indoors - anywhere - with some effort.
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There are several categories of chicory, with multiple cultivars. Radicchio is actually a type of chicory, it is red, often called Italian chicory, and bears a strong resemblance to red cabbage. Radicchio is grown for its leaves.
Witloof is a white leaved chicory. The Dutch word 'witloof' translates literally to white leaf. The British simply call it chicory and the French call it Endive or sometimes Belgian endive.
Whitloof is most commonly grown for its large root, which is used as a coffee additive. When grown for its leaves it is generally referred to as Belgian endive and is grown using a different method referred to as forcing or blanching. Chicory that is forced / blanched should have the roots dug up prior to the first frost and the leaves cutback to about an inch. The roots are then stored for about 2 months in a cold refrigerator. This refrigerated chilling will force the leaves to grow in a compact tighter 'blanched' head. Forced Growing sometimes calls for row covers or individual plantings that are shielded from from sunlight in much the same fashion as albino artichoke.
Sugarloaf chicory resembles lettuce, cos lettuce in particular. The plant produces long tightly wrapped green heads and is a tad bitter. It is slightly more heat tolerant than other varieties, but not significantly more. It has multiple culinary uses such as salads and sautees.
Starting from seed
Start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before planting outdoors. Chiocory grows best during cool spring and early fall weather. Set plants in the garden soil as soon as it is workable.
Late season Fall plantings are feasible and can be done 3-4 weeks before you begin the harvest of your summer vegetables. Although chicory grows best in full sun, do not plant during the dog days of summer. During the hot summer months the plants are already growing will benefit from some supplemental shade, and additional moisture. Once established, the plants will withstand frost.
Spacing varies slightly among various cultivars and types but as a rule of thumb 6 - 10 inches between plants and roughly 2 feet between rows is acceptable. Seed packets generally list spacing advisories on the pack.
Thinning the plants is sometimes necessary once the plants have produced several sets of true leaves.
Temperatures should be below 75 F
Weeds are a common problem. Weeding and mulching are advisable.
Water - Soil should be uniformly moist, up to 2 inches of water weekly. Mulching will help in moisture retention.
Fertilizer - After planting, fertilize with a low salt fertilizer, don't use excessively high nitrogen fertilizer. Although nitrogen fertilizers are good for growth of foliage , excessive nitrogen can cause plants to bolt and become bitter.
Soil pH should be 5.5 to 6.8
Miscellaneous Chicory Facts
Chicory is biennial plant, meaning it will survive 2 years. It has been known to survive up to 5 years under optimal conditions.
Chicory has a large spindly taproot that penetrates deep into the soil. It helps to make the plant drought tolerant. The taproot contains inulin, a polysaccharide that is sometimes used as a sweetener in addition to its use as an additive for coffee.
Flowers are a purple Blue hue and bloom over an extended period from midsummer to early fall. Individual flowers only last a day. The flowers contain both male and femal reproductive organs but they are not capable of self-pollination. Insects such as bees are the primary pollinators of this plant.
As a medicinal Chicory has been used in treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and gallstones. Inulin found in the taproot is used for weight loss and is known to eliminate intestinal parasites in animals.