Welcome to the Weekly Weeder series. Today's featured weed is chicory, Chicorium intybus. Chicory is also known as Blue Sailor, Ragged Sailor, Coffeeweed, Cornflower, Succory, Wild Succory, Garden Endive, Wild Chicory, Common Chicory and Blue Dandelion. Another European import, it's believed to have originated in Eurasia. It's prized for its long taproot, which is roasted and used as a coffee substitute or coffee additive.
Range and Identification of Chicory
Where Does Chicory Grow?
Around here, chicory grows in large clumps and is common along country roads, combining with birdsfoot trefoil to paint the countryside with bold swaths of blue and yellow. Its long taproot punches down through clay, gravel and compacted soils, thriving in rough conditions. The USDA range map shows that is common throughout the United States.
How to Identify Chicory
Chicory is a perennial plant that has a basal rosette with long, toothed leaves similar to a dandelion (thus the name “blue dandelion”). It grows 1-4′ tall, with ground level leaves that are 3-6″ long. The leaves that alternate up the flower stalk are much shorter, 1/2 – 1″ long, and wrap around the stem.
Bloom time is summer and fall. Flowers are roughly 1.5 ” across with up to 20 petals. They open in the morning and close by early afternoon. Each petal is tipped with a tiny bit of fringe, like a scarf. Flower color ranges from white to pink, but in our area I have only seen blue.
When chicory flowers, it shoots up a long stem with multiple blossoms that open one at a time and last only one day. Although not as striking as some flower displays, thick clumps of chicory still make a lovely splash of blue in the countryside. The flowers don't smell like much. When my great niece and I went out to smell them, she said, “It smells like barnyard”. Yes, perhaps a bit, but the odor is faint.
You probably don't want to let these go to seed in large numbers in areas where you frequent. They produce hooked seeds that latch onto clothing, somewhat like burdock burrs. These seeds are oblong, flat and about 1/4 inch long. I once let a large patch of them go to seed on our rock wall at our old place (the flowers were so beautiful!), and what a mess that was.
Wildlife and Forage Uses of Chicory
Illinois Wildflowers shares the faunal associations of chicory:
The flowers attract short-tongued bees and probably other insects. Both nectar and pollen are available as floral rewards. The foliage of Common Chicory is eaten by Melanoplus bivittatus (Two-Striped Grasshopper), Melanoplus femurrubrum (Red-Legged Grasshopper), and probably other grasshoppers. The larvae of a lizard beetle, Acropteroxys gracilis, bore through the stems of this plant, while the caterpillars of the moth, Pyrrhia exprimens (Purple-Lined Sallow), feed on the the flowers, buds, and developing achenes. Because the foliage contains a bitter white latex, it is probably not preferred as a food source by mammalian herbivores, although cattle and sheep reportedly eat the basal leaves.
While chicory does provide a nectar source for bees, it produces a yellow, bitter honey.
PennState Extension recommends chicory as a forage crop, noting, “Chicory produces leafy growth which is higher in nutritive and mineral content (if managed properly) than is produced by alfalfa or cool-season grasses. It has a relatively deep taproot which provides for tolerance to drought conditions.”
Chicory as Food
Chicory leaves are edible and rich in nutrients, like dandelion leaves, but extremely bitter. If you can find them, the small rosettes of early spring are the most palatable. Those who don't mind bitter greens can use the young greens raw (sparingly) in a salad. Older leaves are best cooked with a couple of changes of water – if you're really that hungry. The white bases (or crowns, as Samuel Thayer calls them) of older plants can be trimmed of the bitter green leaves and eaten. The white base is somewhat less bitter than the green leaves.
In The Flower Cookbook, Adrienne Crowhurst makes pickled chicory flowers. I have not tried this, but the recipe sounds interesting.Print
Pickled Chicory Flowers
A unique wildcrafted condiment for the adventurous eater.
- 2 cups chicory flowers or flower buds
- 3 cups white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup brown sugar
Wash the chicory buds or flowes in ice cold water; drain. Place them in a sterilized canning jar (or jars). In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, salt and ginger to a boil. Simmer for five minutes. Remove mixture from heat and add the sugar; stir until dissolved. Pout this liquid over the flowers and buds in the jar(s). Seal and store in a cool place for at least one week before using.
How to Make Chicory Coffee
Chicory roots are dried, roasted and ground, and then brewed like coffee. A good family friend who recently passed away, Mike Jacisin, used to be a regular chicory “coffee” consumer. Mike was one of my early wildcrafting inspirations.
To make chicory coffee:
- Dig roots in early spring or late fall, when they are not flowering.
- Scrub the roots well and trim off tops.
- Chop and dehydrate the roots using a commercial dehydrator or air drying. If you chop the roots into smaller pieces before dehydrating, they will dry faster. (Think small rounds or bits, roughly even in size so they will roast evenly in the oven.) Air dry on a rack for a week or two at room temp, or dehydrate at 95F in a commercial dehydrator for 12-14 hours.
- Roast the dried roots for 20 to 60 minutes at 325F, until they are brown and brittle. Think “coffee roast color”.
- Grind in a coffee grinder, spice mill or blender.
- To brew chicory coffee, you may use it as you would regular coffee in a dip coffee maker or French press. Alternatively, boil 1-2 teaspoons of ground, roasted root in one cup of water for about three minutes. Pour into coffee strainer or French press and let drip or strain.
- Store roasted roots, ground or unground, in an airtight container.
For more herbal coffee ideas, check out the post 8 Herbal Coffee Alternatives.
Medicinal Uses of Chicory
Gardens Ablaze gives the following directions for medicinal use of chicory. Please visit their site for instructions on how to make chicory tea and herbal capsules.
Chicory teas taken internally are believed to be effective in treating jaundice and liver problems. Additionally, as with many other herbs, a tea made from roots or leaves appears to be useful for those with digestive problems.
Save a little tea and try dipping a cotton ball into it for a refreshing and soothing eye wash. You can also add a spoonful or two of honey to thicken and use as syrup for a mild laxative for kids. For long-term use, try drying and pulverizing Chicory leaves into a powder for use in capsule form. Please see How to Make Herbal Capsules for more information.
For external use, bruise fresh Chicory leaves and apply to areas affected by gout, skin eruptions, swellings, skin inflammations, and rheumatism.
Learn to Use and Appreciate the Weeds
“Weeds” are just plants that grow without being planted – or where you may not want them – but they serve a purpose. I always tell the boys, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” If there is an empty niche, it will be filled. Our weeds hold the soil in place, plow compacted subsoil, draw up nutrients, provide medicine, feed wildlife (and people) – they are a treasure, not a curse. As you tend your yard and garden and the soil improves, unwanted volunteers will either disappear on their own, or be much easier to manage.
- Wildflowers of Wisconsin
- Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
- The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
- Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
- Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate
Thanks so much for stopping by to visit. Help stop the overuse of herbicides by spreading the word about putting our weeds to work and sharing this post.
You may also find useful:
- Top 10 Edible Flowers, Plus Over 60 More Flowers You Can Eat
- The Weekly Weeder Series
- My Favorite Wildcrafting Resources
Originally published in 2011, updated in 2017.