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Bitter or Astringent Herbs - Chicory - Cichorium intybus

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Chicory - Cichorium intybus

Chicory is a tall herbaceous perennial, native to the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor. The modern cultivated forms originated in 16th-century Europe. In time they gave rise to two very different forced forms: in the late 18th century the Dutch grew the roots for use as a cheaper substitute for coffee – as an additive without caffeine it remains popular in Belgium, France, Germany, and the US; in 1845, the Belgians developed the blanched form grown under soil or sawdust that we still know as Belgian endive or witloof.

Culinary uses

Young leaves are used in salads; the edible flowers can also be added to salads as cheerful decoration. Older leaves benefit from quick blanching and are then used in cooked dishes – they are not appetizing in salads.

Good with fresh cheeses, lettuce and other salad greens, nuts.

Combines well with chervil, cilantro, cresses, parsley, purslane, salad burnet, sweet cicely.

Tasting notes

Chicory has no smell. It has a milky white juice containing inulin, which accounts for the bitter taste – quite pleasant in the crisp, young leaves but harsh in old ones. The flowers are not at all bitter.

Parts used

Young green leaves; flowers.

Buying and storing

Seeds and plants can usually be bought from an herb nursery. Leaves will keep in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for 2–3 days. Flowers need to be used immediately.

Grow your own

Chicory is easily grown from seed in almost any water-retentive but reasonably well-drained soil that allows penetration by the very long taproots. The light green leaves are large at the base, smaller on the upper, branching stems. The large, light blue, daisy-like flowers, which last only a day or so and close in the midday sun, appear all through the summer and early autumn. Suppressing the flower stems early encourages leaf growth.

Fresh leaves

Chicory grows wild in much of Europe and North America. In the garden it can reach 3 1/3ft ( 1m) or more by flowering time.

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