Edible Wild Plants: Chicory (Cichorium Intybus)

Chicory (Cichorium Intybus)Chicory (Cichorium Intybus) has always been more of less popular in European countries, having been well known, apparently, to the early Romans. In the spring the leaves are gathered somewhat indiscriminately with dandelion-greens, having the same excessively bitter quality which some people find palatable in a potherb. The bitterness is somewhat reduced by cooking and may be further withdrawn by cooking the leaves in several waters.

Under the name “Barbe Du Capucin”, the blanched leaves have long been popular as a salad in continental Europe, and are more and more seen in American markets, although the closely related endive is, perhaps, more generally cultivated.

An economical and decidedly attractive bitter salad is easily secured by digging the larger, wild Chicory-roots during late autumn or in mild periods during winter, boxing them in earth in a dark and warm cellar, preferably with a cover to keep out any rays of light. The roots, frequently watered, soon send up an abundant, crisp white foliage which, by judicious handling, may be continued for several weeks.

Chicory Coffee

The use of the ground and roasted roots of Chicory as an adulterant in coffee has long been practiced and, according to some authors, coffee containing a large proportion of Chicory is not only more palatable but more wholesome than true coffee.

Chicory Growing in a Wild FieldFor, although discriminatingly referring to some frequently cooked plants as “not, however, valued by persons of refined taste”, Lindley enthusiastically wrote of Chicory, “whose tap roots are cultivated as a substitute for Coffee, which they certainly improve when torrefied and added in small quantities.” Lindley was an Englishman.

Johnson tells us that in parts of Europe the demand for Chicory-coffee often exceeds the supply and that the ground Chicory has sometimes been mixed with sawdust, roasted beans, dried horse-liver, and other substances used to add bulk. Thus it is easy to understand the scarcity of good coffee in most tourist-hotels of Europe.

Since through many decades Chicory-root has maintained its place as the chief substitute for or adulterant of coffee and is now being urged as an official substitute, the following passage, written by Porcher in South Carolina when the South was suffering from the privations caused by the Civil War, may be of value:

By the combination of a little chiccory with coffee the flavor of the coffee is not destroyed, but there is added to the infusion a richness of flavor, and a depth of color – a body, which renders it to very many people much more welcome as a beverage. The cheapness of chiccory enables a grocer, by the combination of chiccory powder with good coffee, to sell a compound which will yield a cup of infinitely better stuff than any pure coffee that can be had at the same price.

Any one with a sensitive taste, and a sufficient purse, would of course buy coffee of the finest quality, and never think of bettering with chiccory the enjoyment of its delicate aroma. The majority of the people, however, are by no means in this position. Coffee, with an admixture of genuine chiccory, (which we take care to procure by purchasing the article in its raw state, and having it roasted the same as coffee,) was preferred to coffee in its pure state.

The reason of this we can clearly understand, and will explicitly state. We can afford to sell, and do sell a finer coffee when mixed with chiccory, in our opinion, decidedly gives greater satisfaction to the public.

The “fillers” now being exploited contain chicory and various types of parched beans.

Edible Parts

  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Roots

All parts of the Chicory are edible


Eat the young leaves as a salad or boil to eat as a vegetable. Cook the roots as a vegetable. For use as a coffee substitute, roast the roots until they are dark brown and then pulverize them.

A neat use is making Chicory Spoons with the leaves of Chicory.

Chicory Spoons

Chicory leaves make great edible spoons, especially when filled with a delicious chicken Caesar salad

Medicinal Uses

An analysis of chicory or endive leaves shows them to consist of 93.0 per cent moisture, 1.7 per cent protein, 0.1 per cent fat, 0.9 per cent fiber and 4.3 per cent carbohydrate per 100 grams. Its mineral and vitamin contents are calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. Its calorific value is 20.

Chicory Growing Alongside Road

Chicory flowers contain a glucoside chichorin and bitter substances, lactucin and intbin. Seeds contain a bland oil and roots contain nitrate and sulphate of potash, mucilage and some bitter principle.

Tonic, diuretic and laxative. A decotion of the root has benefit in jaundice, liver problems, gout and rheumatic complaints. The root, when dried, roasted and ground, may be added to coffee or may be drunk on its own as a beverage.

Where Does Chicory (Cichorium Intybus) Grow?

Chicory Growing Area Map

How To Identify Chicory (Cichorium Intybus)

Chicory Seedlings

Cotyledons are oval and have an indented apex.  Cotyledons are widest at the apex and taper down to a short petiole.

Chicory Leaves

Plants initially produce a basal rosette of leaves that resembles dandelion.  Leaves are also produced on flowering stems during the same season.  All leaves are alternate and lanceolate in outline and usually have rough hairs on both surfaces.  All of the leaves are also slightly dissected or lobed and usually have toothed margins.  The lobes that occur are not always opposite one another unlike those of dandelion.  Rosette leaves are approximately 3 to 10 inches long by 2 to 3 inches wide.  Leaves that occur on the flowering stalks are much smaller than the rosette leaves and also have leaf bases that surround or clasp the stem.

Chicory Stem

Stems are branched and produced during the latter part of the growing season.

Chicory Roots

A taproot that is relatively large and brown in color.

Chicory Flower

Produced in clusters of 1 to 3 on the flowering stems.  Individual flowers are approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter and are blue, purple, or white in color.

Chicory Fruit

An achene that is approximately 2 to 3 mm long and angled.

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