Chicory is a medium herbaceous perennial with long, serrated leaves, similar to those of dandelion, and a large, white taproot. In early summer the plant produces hairy flowering stalks up to a meter tall with multiple light purple flowers. Each flower gives rise to 4-6 small seeds.
Chicory grows well in compacted soils, and its deep taproot makes it resilient to drought conditions. Chicory grows largest in full sun, but will grow well in partial shade and tends to be less bitter when grown in mild shade. Chicory seed cast in the fall will germinate readily in the spring, but can also be propagated from root fragments.
Due to its taproot, Chicory can be used to decompact and enrich depleted soils. Young chicory greens make a great addition to salads, adding a unique bitter flavor, and are also good steamed and stir fried. Leaves can be boiled to remove most of the bitterness. Chicory leaves are high in many vitamins and minerals and contain compounds that may help prevent or treat intestinal parasites [40 – 42]. Older leaves can be chopped and dropped as a mulch plant and will provide minerals to the soil. The root of the chicory plant is high in the starch inulin, and can be cooked and eaten like parsnip. It can also be roasted and brewed into a beverage similar in taste to coffee, with which it is often mixed. Inulin is a good prebiotic, and can also be used as a sweetener. . The flowers are an excellent source of pollen and nectar for beneficial insects.
Chicory makes a great addition to any perennial vegetable patch, and makes an excellent companion to other leafy greens, as the insects it attracts keep pest populations in check.