Chicory

According to the literature, chicory (Cichorium intybus) flower heads are blue, rarely white. In June, Leonard and I discovered blue, white and distinctly pink chicory flower heads between the North and South Elkins Barns at Ash Creek Wildlife Area near Lookout CA (Modoc County).

A member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae), chicory flower heads are composed entirely of ray flowers. The strap-like flower rays are squared on top with five small teeth. The head has two series of phyllaries, the outer of which is shorter and loose. Several to many flower heads (usually 1 to 3) occur on long branches arising from the axils of very small upper leaves.

Chicory stems arise from a deep taproot and have many wiry, spreading branches. The entire plant has a milky juice. The alternate, lower leaves are lance-shaped, have deeply toothed to lobed margins and mostly clasp the stem. These leaves are sparsely hairy on both surfaces. The upper leaves are reduced in size and are sometimes difficult to see.

Chicory fruits are hairless achenes that are five-angled and slightly ribbed. They do not have feathery hairs (pappi) but do have 2 or 3 series of scales at the end.

A native of Eurasia, this cosmopolitan plant has established itself in many parts of the world including Australia and most of North America. Often considered invasive or a noxious weed, chicory grows along roadsides, fields, waste areas and other disturbed sites.

C intybus leaves can be used as a salad green, especially early in the spring before the leaves turn bitter. The taproot is roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute or is added to coffee to bolster the flavor. The root also contains up to 20% of the polysaccharide inulin. In this Century, chicory is cultivated and the inulin used as a sweetener and a source of dietary fiber. Medicinal uses, historical and current, include controlling high blood pressure, relieving constipation and as a treatment for liver and gallbladder diseases, among many other uses. Its medicinal effectiveness is not proven, but using chicory preparations does not appear to have adverse side effects. Chicory also is, and has been, grown as fodder for cattle.

Cichorium is a Latinized form of the Arabic name of a species in this genus.  The species name, intybus, comes from the Egyptian word “tybi” meaning January, the month in which the species was customarily eaten. Common chicory is another colloquial name for C intybus.

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1 Response to Chicory

  1. tonytomeo says:

    This was one that I actually put into the garden. I would not put dandelion out there because doing so would just seem wrong. Chicory is not such a weed, and is actually rare enough here that I got the seed from someone else. I just could not find enough that were actually blooming. In fact, I was hesitant to sow it where it was not already established. In the end, it did not matter anyway. It never did well, and was gone by the third season.

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