A number of chicories (Cichorium intybus) are hardy and make good crops in the winter months, given some protection. Chicory leaves are stalked, hairy, lanceolate and large, coarsely toothed, growing in clustered formation from plant base in spreading rosette while the upper leaves are small. Their pale yellow and red leaves add colors to salads and they can also be braised. Three main types are grown: Witloof or Belgian chicory, sugar loaf chicory and red chicory, often called ‘radicchio’.
Withloof chicory is grown in two stages. The seed is sown in late spring and the plants are left to grow until late fall. The leaves are bitter and not usually eaten. In the fall the heads can either be cut off the plants 1 in above the ground or the roots can be lifted, trimmed and replanted for forcing indoors.
If the roots are left in situ they should be covered with soil to a depth of 6-7 in and protected with straw or fleece. The tight heads will force their way through the earth. Indoors four roots can be planted in a pot 8-9 in and then covered by another pot excluding all light. If they are kept at about 18°C the familiar yellow and white ‘chicons’ will be ready in about three weeks.
Red and sugar loaf chicory are usually sown in summer to mature in the fall when the heads are cut and used in salads. Some varieties can be forced in the same way as Witloof chicory, but these will need winter protection.
Secrets of success
Sow: Late spring or summer – depending on the type being grown.
Planting: Depth 0,5 in; distance 8 in apart.
Soil: Light, sandy soil.
Site: Open sunny.
Uses: Salads, as a braised vegetable. Medical uses: Chicory has a mild laxative effect that is beneficial for digestive problems such as dyspepsia, indigestion and constipation. Chicory is also used to increase appetite and promote general well being. Chicory is rich in beta-carotene that can fight and prevent colon cancer. It is also used to treat gallstones and liver stones by increasing the secretion of bile from the liver and gallbladder promoting urination and excretion of harmful substances. Chicory is also used as natural sedative for nervous system.