CHICORY. The chicory or succory plant, Cichorium Intybus (natural order, Compositae), in its wild state is a native of Great Britain, occurring most frequently in dry chalky soils, and by road-sides. It has a long fleshy tap-root, a rigid branching hairy stem rising to a height of 2 or 3 ft. - the leaves around the base being lobed and toothed, not unlike those of the dandelion. The flower heads are of a bright blue colour, few in number, and measure nearly an inch and a half across. Chicory is cultivated much more extensively on the continent of Europe - in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany - than in Great Britain; and as a cultivated plant it has three distinct applications. Its roots roasted and ground are used as a substitute for, adulterant of, or addition to coffee; both roots and leaves are employed as salads; and the plant is grown as a fodder or herbage crop which is greedily consumed by cattle. In Great Britain it is chiefly in its first capacity, in connexion with coffee, that chicory is employed. A large proportion of the chicory root used for this purpose is obtained from Belgium and other neighbouring continental countries; but a considerable quantity is cultivated in England, chiefly in Yorkshire. For the preparation of chicory the older stout white roots are selected, and after washing they are sliced up into small pieces and kiln-dried. In this condition the material is sold to the chicory roaster, by whom it is roasted till it assumes a deep brown colour; afterwards when ground it is in external characteristics very like coffee, but is destitute of its pleasing aromatic odour. Neither does the roasted chicory possess any trace of the alkaloid caffeine which gives their peculiar virtues to coffee and tea. The fact, however, that for over a hundred years it has been successfully used as a substitute for or recognized addition to coffee, while in the meantime innumerable other substances have been tried for the same purpose and abandoned, indicates that it is agreeable and harmless. It gives the coffee additional colour, bitterness and body. It is at least in very extensive and general use; and in Belgium especially its infusion is largely drunk as an independent beverage.
The blanched leaves are much esteemed by the French as a winter salad known by the name of Barbe de capucin. When intended for winter use, chicory is sown in May or June, commonly in drills, and the plants are thinned out to 4 in. apart. If at first the leaves grow very strong, they are cut off, perhaps in the middle of August, about an inch from the ground, so as to promote the production of new leaves, and check the formation of flower-stems. About the beginning of October the plants are raised from the border, and all the large leaves cut off; the roots are also shortened, and they are then planted pretty closely together in boxes filled with rich light mould, and watered when needful. When frost comes on, the boxes are protected by any kind of litter and haulm. As the salad is wanted, they are removed into some place having a moderately increased temperature, and where there is no light. Each box affords two crops of blanched leaves, and these are reckoned fit for cutting when about 6 in. long. Another mode of obtaining the young leaves of this plant in winter is to sow seeds in a bed of light rich mould, or in boxes in a heat of from 55° to 60°, giving a gentle watering as required. The leaves will be fit to be cut in a fortnight after sowing, and the plants will afford a second crop.
In Belgium a variety of chicory called Witloef is much preferred as a salad to the French Barbe de capucin. The seeds are sown and the plants thinned out like those of the ordinary sort. They are eventually planted in light soil, in succession, from the end of October to February, at the bottom of trenches a foot or more in depth, and covered over with from 2 to 3 ft. of hot stable manure. In a month or six weeks, according to the heat applied, the heads are fit for use and should be cut before they reach the manure. The plants might easily be forced in frames on a mild hot-bed, or in a mushroom-house, in the same way as sea-kale. In Belgium the fresh roots are boiled and eaten with butter, and throughout the Continent the roots are stored for use as salads during winter.
See also Endive (Cichorium endivia).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)