991 Cichorum intybusCommon Names: chicory, radicchio, Belgian endive, witloof, Magdeburg Family: Asteraceae (aster/daisy Family)
Like the closely related endive and escarole (Cichorum endiva), chicory and radicchio are bitter tasting salad greens more popular in Europe than in the States. Chicory and radicchio are generally not as bitter as the endives, however. There are several types of chicory. Leaf or heading chicory looks like a romaine lettuce, with loose, upright heads. It has slightly thicker leaves than romaine and a mildly to strongly bitter flavor, depending on variety and growing conditions. Italian or loose-leaf chicory has long leaf stems (petioles) and deeply notched leaves, like a dandelion's. The stems, 1 ft (0.3 m) or so in length, are sometimes the only parts eaten. Witloof chicory (a.k.a. Belgian endive or chicons) is grown for the tender white buds which are forced by growing in the dark. Root chicory is grown for its roots which are cooked like carrots or parsnips or roasted and used as a substitute for, or a flavoring in, coffee. The radicchios are types of chicory that grow in tight heads, like cabbage. Most radicchios are wine-red with white veins and about the size of an orange or small grapefruit. They often look like little red cabbages. The roadside weed, wild chicory, with its pretty blue flowers, is this same species, gone wild.
Here in our Florida Zone 8 vegetable garden we grow chicory and radicchio in the winter. Our favorite Italian chicory is a variety called asparagus chicory in the seed catalogues. The stems are long and tender and hardly bitter at all. We add it to salads all winter long. Red Treviso and Early Treviso radicchios are beautiful little red heads that are absolutely not bitter when grown in the winter. A good leaf chicory is the small Crystal Hat chicory which also is hardly bitter at all. Cornucopia II lists seven varieties of leaf or heading chicory, 20 varieties of Italian or loose-leaf chicory, 15 varieties of radicchio, 13 varieties of witloof chicory, and three varieties of root chicory seeds available from US mail order companies.
Chicory, Cichorum intybus, is originally from the Mediterranean region. Chicories and radicchios are especially popular in Italy, where the leaves and stems are eaten raw or cooked, and the roots are boiled or roasted. The wild form of chicory has become naturalized as a weed in many parts of the world, and is especially common in North America where it grows in old fields and along roads and powerlines.
CultureLight: Grow in full sun. Moisture: Chicory should get normal garden watering as with any leafy vegetable. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Chicory and radicchio are hardy perennials. They taste best when they have a long, cool growing season. The wild form of chicory does not seem to occur south of zone 8. Propagation: Plant seeds in spring up north and in fall in the south. If chicory or radicchio plants bolt with long stems, just cut off the stems in fall and they will form the characteristic heads before spring.
We use radicchio and chicory in salads throughout the winter and spring. When grown in hot weather, these salad greens, like escarole and endive, tend to be too bitter for our tastes. They usually die during our hot, humid summer, anyway. Chicory and radicchio are actually perennials, but they are usually grown as annuals, pulled up completely when harvested. However, if you just cut off the radicchio head or the individual stems of Italian chicory, the plants will regrow and continue to produce. You can even let them bolt to flower, and then cut off the flowering stem and they will begin again to produce the edible leaves. The blue flowers are very pretty and attractive to butterflies.
You can buy seeds of forcing varieties of chicory, and you can even force radicchios and other types of chicory. Grow the plants out in the garden as you would any other green, but then dig up the parsnip-like roots in early winter. Cut the plants back to one inch above the crown and store the roots in sand in a cool dark place for several weeks. As needed throughout the winter and spring, pack several of the roots upright in a pot with some compost or peat, leaving the crowns exposed. Place another pot up-side-down on top to keep the roots in the dark, and place the two pots in a warmer environment, around 50-60ºF (10-15.6ºC). In 3-4 weeks the roots will have developed elongated buds that, because of the blanching, will be white and not bitter. These are called chicons, witloof chicory, or Belgian endive. Cut them off, water the roots a little, and replace the cover pot, and a second crop of smaller chicons will be produced.
Steve Christman 8/19/04