This week we are learning about a plant with plentiful uses for humans and wildlife alike, the herbaceous perennial Cichorium intybus (Chicory).
Producing it’s pretty blue blooms from late spring to early autumn, chicory is a lovely addition to the garden, whether it be for the visual appeal, its benefits on the soil or the nourishment it provides both humans and insects. Let’s take a closer look at this delightful plant.
Cultivation & Care
Chicory will grow in a variety of soils in a sunny position, however well-drained, fertile soils which retain moisture are preferable. Though they enjoy the sunshine, in really hot conditions they will suffer if sufficient irrigation isn’t provided. They will also tolerate partial shade but they will struggle in full shade. While tolerating a range of soil pH, it will not be happy in acidic soils so if you do have soils with a lower pH, I’d advise growing plants that are more at home in such conditions.
While chicory is a perennial, it is often grown as an annual due to how useful it is as a winter salad plant. The species sets seed quite prolifically though so even if it is grown as an annual you can rely on more plants emerging from the soil the following growing season.
They require little care other than irrigation during dry spells. You can also extend the period of leaf growth by cutting back flower heads, however doing so will be denying flowers for insects to feed from.
Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally and when in doubt about eating a plant you have not eaten before.
- Leaves ~ the leaves can be enjoyed raw or cooked, though they will have increased bitterness to the taste when the plant is in flower, this bitterness can be reduced by cooking the leaves.
- Several varieties of leaf vegetable available including Belgian Endive, Raddicchio and Sugarloaf.
- Roots ~ The roots can be grown, harvested and then roasted to be used as a coffee substitute. The variety Cichorium intybus var. sativum is usually grown for this purpose.
- Forage plant for ruminant species ~ this is great for any rescue animals you may be keeping on your land such as sheep, goats, ponies, horses, cows, etc.
- Pioneer species ~ An early settler on bare land, chicory helps transform an area into a better habitat for other plant species.
- Dynamic accumulator ~ Chicory is particularly good at mining for potassium and calcium minerals within the soil which other species may not reach. These are later added to the topsoil when the leaves of the plant decompose.
- Dye ~ Blue dye can be obtained from the leaves.
- Great for attracting beneficial insects
- A great source of pollen and nectar for insects, particularly useful for bees
- Provides shelter for many species of beneficial insects, especially parasitic wasps, spiders and hover flies