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CHICORY
Cichorium intybus

Other Names | Origin & Distribution | Plant Description | Similar Species | Biology | Toxicity | Facts & Folklore

Chicory seedling. Leaf and stems of chicory. Chicory seeds. Stem leaf of chicory showing partially clasping lobes and pointed tip. Characteristic blue of chicory flowers. Chicory blooming in a soybean field. Chicory flower.

Family: Daisy Family (Compositae)

Other Names: blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, common chicory, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor's buttons, wild endive, witloof.

Origin and Distribution: Chicory originated in the Mediterranean and became distributed throughout much of the world where it was grown for centuries as a salad green. Its cultivation in North America began in the 1700's and ended in about 1950 when it became more economical to import chicory. During that time, chicory escaped cultivation and naturalized populations spread throughout southern Canada and the U.S., where it is most commonly found it in the north and west. In Ohio, it occurs throughout the state. Chicory grows abundantly besides roads and highways. It can also be found in lawns, pastures, fields, and waste places. The plant favors lime-rich soils but tolerates a variety of soil types.

 

Plant Description: Chicory is a perennial that initially grows as a rosette of irregularly-toothed basal leaves. Then, later in the season, leafless stems emerge with sky-blue daisy-like flowers scattered along their length. Flowers open each morning and close as sunlight increases in intensity around noon. Only a few flower heads open at a time and each head opens for a single day. Chicory reproduces by seeds.

  • Root system - Plants produce a thick, deep, sturdy taproot containing a very bitter and milky juice.
  • Seedlings & Shoots - Young leaves are oblong to egg-shaped, pale green, shiny, and contain a bitter and milky juice in the midvein.
  • Stems - The erect, round, hollow, nearly leafless stems produce stiff spreading branches that can grow 1 to 5 feet tall. Lower portions of stems are hairy. Upper portions are generally without leaves making stems appear straggly. Stems exude a milky sap if cut.
  • Leaves - Rosette leaves are 2 to 6 inches long, oblong or lance-shaped, and covered with rough hairs on both the upper and lower surfaces. Margins of basal leaves are either deeply dissected with pointed lobes or they may be shallowly toothed. Stem leaves are small, sparse, alternate (1 leaf per node), lance-shaped, and clasping. Stem leaves have smooth or slightly toothed edges.
  • Flowers - The showy flowers are clustered in heads that are 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, short-stalked or stalkless, and borne in clusters of 1 to 4 on the upper branches. Each flower head consists of many individual, bright blue, petal-like flowers that are squared-ended and toothed.
  • Fruits & Seeds - The single-seeded fruits are about 1/8 inch long, dark brown, wedge-shaped, and 5-angled.
 
Similar Species: Rosette leaves of chicory closely resemble those of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale); however, basal leaves of chicory are coarser and have more prominent hairs compared with dandelion leaves.
 

Biology: Flowering occurs from June through September. Flowers generally bloom in the morning, track the sun, and close when sunlight is brightest at mid-day. The average plant produces about 3000 seeds. Chicory does not tolerate cultivation.
 

Toxicity: None known. However, chicory sometimes causes contact dermatitis in humans.
 

Facts and Folklore:
  • 'Intybus' was derived from the Egyptian word for January, which was when chicory was harvested and eaten many thousands of years ago in Egypt.

  • Chicory is considered a salad green rather than a weed in Europe; fresh leaves are sold as radicchio in Italy and the French produce a green they call whitloof chicory, Belgian endive, or French endive by forcing chicory roots to sprout while deprived of light.

  • It is common to roast the roots and use them as a coffee substitute or additive. Roots can also be eaten raw or boiled, or they can be dried, ground, and used as seasoning.

  • Chicory is a productive and high quality forage crop that functions well in rotational grazing systems.

  • The flowers were once used to make a yellow dye while the leaves made a blue dye.

  • Folk remedies used chicory roots for jaundice, spleen problems, and constipation and a tea made from foliage supposedly promoted bile production and released gallstones.

  • In one legend telling of chicory's origin, a beautiful maiden refused the advances of the Sun and was turned into a chicory flower that had to stare at the Sun each day and always faded in the presence of its might.