Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Chicory in flower.
Season: Spring & Summer
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Chicory (Cichorium intybus). This plant is very common to see along the side of roads and walking paths. I suggest not using these, only use ones away from paths and roads. Along the sides of roads there is often a lot of pollution, and the ones along paths could have dog pee on them.
The leaves from this plant are a highly appreciated vegetable all over Europe. Often grown without light (Blanching) which makes them less bitter and white. A variation of this plant is sold as Endive (Cichorium endivia).
Before the plant produces a stalk, it is easy to mistake for a Dandelion. Not a problem, they both have a similar taste, and are good for the same uses. Once the plant forms a central stalk, you know it must be a Chicory, as Dandelions never produce a stalk - all leaves and flowers come from the base.
Before the plant flowers, some people find the leaves not too bitter to eat raw, but once there are flowers on the plant, the leaves are so bitter that you must boil them in water (pouring the water away) before using in meals. However, they are not bitter because of any poison that will hurt you, it is just a taste issue. There are cultures that appreciate the bitterness, and I have to say, after years of eating the leaves from this plant and the Dandelion, you do grow used to it to the point it is not unpleasant.
Once boiled and the water poured off, you can use the leafy greens in any recipe. I find they go well with tomato sauces and in stir-fry's. I suggest that if you are not used to the bitter taste, boil for longer than is needed to cook them, pour off the water, add fresh water, bring to a boil again, pour that water off, then use the greens. It is true you will lose some of the nutrients by doing this, but it is a good way to get used to the taste, and you can do only one water change in time.
There are different uses for the Chicory roots. I personally only use them one way: I use them the way I use dandelion roots for coffee. Well washed, chopped up, roasted and stored until I put some in water the night before for making coffee or tea with the next morning. My personal favorite is to mix half and half roasted Chicory and Dandelion root with a touch of Burdock root in a jar and use that mix for the coffee or tea water. See Dandelion section here for more on how I do it.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Chicory page.
- Plant Size: generally 30-100 cm (10 to 40 inches), however can grow up to 1.5 meters (5 feet)
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Quite variable, even on the same plant. Some are Lanceolate, while some are Pinnatisect. Easiest way to describe them is say the bigger leaves look like Dandelion leaves, while leaves on stalks (Dandelions don't have stalks) can look like Dandelion leaves or completely smooth edged (usually the smaller leaves). Base of leaves on Stalks wrap around each side of the stalk, but not all the way around.
- Leaf Opposite or Alternate on stem: Alternate
- Leaf Size: Highly variable: 5-35 cm (2 to 14 inches) long
- Leaf Margin: Quite variable, even on same plant. Some are deeply lobed with an irregular sawtooth, some are perfectly Entire (smooth edged)
- Flowers: Usually in the blue range: bright blue to light sky-blue to cornflower-blue to mauve-blue to mauve. Can be mixes of colors on same plant. Each flower can be a mix of colors. Rarely: white or light pink. 2-4 cm (3/4 to 1 1/2 inches) wide
- Fruit: small seeds, tan to brown sometimes spotted, wedge shaped with wide end having short whitish fuzz.
- Stem: Green to reddish-brown. Hairy near base, no hairs on upper sections.
- Habitat: Needs full sun, or very little shade. Rocky, sandy, or clay soils. Can grow in acidic or alkaline soils. Soils need to be well drained, but prefers moist soils. Waste areas, grasslands, roadsides, abandoned fields, edges of woods.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Typical Chicory plant. Picture taken in mid August.
The basal leaves of the Chicory plant. They look like Dandelion leaves.
Basal leaves of a different Chicory. Notice how different they are from the ones above. The leaves are quite variable in margin shape. (Patrick J. Alexander, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 305)
Why does this site have ads?
Originally the content in this site was a book that was sold through Amazon worldwide. However, I wanted this story available to everyone free of charge, so I made this website. The ads on the site help cover the cost of maintaining the site and keeping it available.
This site is hosted by HostUpon. I am very thankful to them for all the patient technical support I received when I first set up my websites and had no idea what I was doing. I am happy to recommend them.
The site is designed to work with all browsers and is specifically designed to be highly functional on smartphones. I kept the site simple, with a clean page design to make using on a smartphone easy, quick & efficient. The Bootstrap framework is responsive, and automatically scales to any screen size.
If you encounter any problem using this site on any device, I would appreciate knowing. Let me know by using the contact page. Tell me what the problem is, and what device you are using it on.