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Cichorium intybus L.

Chicory, Succory, Witloof chicory, Radichetta, Asparagus chicory

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Chicory, cultivated since ancient times for its leaves, is used for salads. It is usually blanched by covering with litter to make it less bitter; whole or shredded leaves are served with oil and vinegar as salads; blanched hearts serve as a vegetable. Root-chicory, established in Europe during, the Napoleanic blockade, is cultivated for roots used as a coffee substitute. When blended with ground coffee, they enhance the flavor and aroma of the brew.

Folk Medicine

Cultivated plant in India is used as a tonic, and in diarrhea, enlargement of the spleen, fever and vomiting. Wild form is considered alexiteric, emmenagogue and tonic. The juice is said to be a folk remedy for cancer of the uterus and for tumors. The powdered seed is said to remedy indurations of the spleen. The leaf, boiled with honey for a gargle is said to cure cancer of the mouth. The root, boiled in water is said to help cancer of the breast and face (Hartwell, 1967-1971).


Chicory-root is free of harmful ingredients, and is essentially a concentrated combination of three sugars (pentose, levulose and dextrose) and taraxarcine (the bitter principle of dandelion). It is especially important as source of levulose. Roots are used in seasoning soups, sauces and gravies, and to impart a rich deep color. Dried chicory roots, as crumbs, are used as horse feed, being a good oat substitute (4.85% protein, 0.85% fat, 4.35% sugar).


Perennial herb, reproducing by seeds and from roots; taproot fleshy, deep, branched, up to 75 cm long,with a milky sap, stems hollow, 3-24 dm tall, often rough-hairy, becoming woody and reddish, the branches rigid, stiffly spreading; leaves alternate, mainly clustered near the base, or forming a rosette near the ground, long-petioled, 1-2 dm long, up to 12 cm broad, irregularly toothed to deeply lobed, glabrous or rough-hairy; upper leaves entire and dentate, oblong lanceolate, greatly reduced (3-7 cm tong), sessile, clasping the stem, base extended into a pair of ear-like projections; flower-heads numberous, 2-5-3 cm in diameter, axillary, 1-5 in sessile clusters along branches or at tip of short stiff branches that often have gland tipped hairs; flowers perfect, all strap-shaped ray flowers, sky-blue, sometimes white or rarely pink; bracts surrounding flower-heads in 2 rows, outer 5 about half as long as 8-10 inner, thickened and yellowish at the base, sometimes with gland-tipped hairs, margins minutely spiny; achene (seed or fruit) 2-3 mm long, obovate, light brown and darker mottled, finely granular, obscurely 4- to 5-angled, the tip blunt, beakless; pappus a minute fringed crown of tiny bristle-like scales. Fl. June to October, or in early March in southern United States and in the Pacific Northwest (Reed, 1976).


Outstanding cvs grown for compact, crisp, white heads, used mainly for salad leaves are: 'Witloof' or 'Brussels Witloof' (broad, shallow lobed or toothed leaves and wide midribs), 'Sugar Loaf', 'Rossa di Verone' (Leaves with reddish-brown markings, becoming brighter red upon blanching); cvs grown for roots used as coffee substitutes are: 'Brunswick' (deeply cut leaves), 'Long-rooted Magdeburn' and 'Westland' strain, and 'Zealand', 'Brandenburg' (Belgium). Reported from the Eurosiberian Center of Diversity, chicory or cvs thereof is reoprted to tolerate frost, fungi, high pH, low pH, poor soil, sand, slope, virus, and weeds. (2n = 18) (Duke, 1978).


Native to Europe, central Russia and western Asia, and cultivated widely through Europe in early times. Presently cultivated in most temperate regions, where it has escaped and become naturalized as a serious weed in many areas.


chicory grows on any type of soil, but, when cultivated grows best on mellow, deeply tilled, fertile soil or sandy loam. A cool weather crop, it tolerates only moderate summer temperatures, and requires well-distributed rainfall, with good drainage, or some irrigation in drier areas. Chicory roots deeply in relatively short time; soil too wet for beans and small grains is not suitable. To insure proper root-growth, apply lime or marl to acid soil to neutralize acidity. Ranging from Boreal Moist through Tropical very dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, chicory is reported to tolerate pH of 4.5 to 8.3, an annual rainfall of 30 to 400 cm, an annual mean biotemperature of 6° to 27°C (Duke, 1978, 1979).


Cultural practices for this root crop are the same as those for sugar beet. Soil should be plowed to a depth of 17 to 25 cm to permit root development. Seed should be planted, or drilled, in a firm, fine-textured seed bed, at a depth of not more than 0.6 cm in rows spaced 45-60 cm apart, at a rate of 2.25 kg/ha. Germination is slow. Since development is slow, excessive hand labor to control weeds may be avoided by planting chicory following another crop such as beans or corn. Cultivation should begin as soon as possible. When plants reach the 4-leaf stage they are thinned to stand 20-25 cm apart in the row. First cultivation may be fairly deep, but subsequent cultivation should be shallow and not close to the plants, to avoid damaging the taproot. Likewise, thinning should not be too late, as thinning may disturb roots of remaining plants. Chicory is a heavy feeder. Manure should be applied above the bed instead of beneath the roots, as bottom heat forces too rapid growth of the shoots. In some areas seeds are broadcast over the seed bed, and seedlings thinned to stand about 25 cm apart each way.


Harvesting should take place as late in the season as possible as there is usually a marked increase in size and weight of roots during cool weather. Care should be taken to remove all remaining pieces of roots as they become established as weeds. Tops are cut off with a heavy knife, and left on the ground to decay as green manure, or fed to livestock. The roots may be piled in the field for a while, or taken directly to a factory to be processed for root-chicory. At the factory, roots are washed, sliced into cubes about 2.5 cm square, and dried over fire. Dried chicory may be stored indefinitely. Final process consists of roasting the dried chicory, grinding it to a fineness suitable for blending with ground coffee. Ground chicory is usually packed in bulk in waterproof barrels or sacks, or in smaller packages for household use. For greens, chicory is harvested when the root is small and early young leaves are tender. For forced chicory, the roots are loosened with a beet lifter and pulled by hand about the end of October. For immediate use they are stored in pits and covered with leaves. Others are trimmed to a length of 20-22 cm and placed upright in prepared trenches, hot beds or similar area, where a constant temperature of 15-21°C may be maintained. Plants are arranged so crowns are about the same height, and then covered with 17-20 cm of dry loose soil. In 12 to 20 days marketable heads or chicons are produced, the most desirable heads being 10-15 cm in diameter, weighing, 0.06-0.09 kg (Reed, 1976).

Yields and Economics

An average yield of chicory-root is about 11.25 MT/ha, although yields up to 27 MT/ha have been recorded. In 1943 United States production of chicory roots was 200,000 tons, at a price of about $16/T: price for the local crops was $.12/kg. Net returns are comparable/hg to sugar beets. In 1963 chicory prices varied for a 1-1/9 bu. crate from $1.20 to $3.34, wholesale.


For alcohol production, chicory and Jerusalem artichoke, which both have a high content of easily hydrolysed inulin, may have a technical advantage over cellulose feedstocks that could be derived from perennial energy plantations. However as cellulose hydrolysis methods improve, alcohol from cellulosic feed-stocks may well become comparable in cost to that from grains and sugary, inuliferous, or starchy feedstocks. In Europe, sugarbeet is likely to be preferred among noncellulosic crops for alcohol production because the carbohydrate is in an immediately fermentable form, whereas the starchy crops like potato and Jerusalem artichoke do not offer better yields, yet require hydrolysis as an extra step (Palz and Chartier, 1980).

Biotic Factors

Serious market diseases of chicory are bacterial soft rot and watery soft rot, caused by Erwinia carotovora and Pseudomonas cichorii. Brown heat cancer is caused by boron deficiency. Fuligo septica causes a slime mold. Fungi known to attack chicory are: Alternaria cichorii, A. tenuis, Ascochyta cichorii, Aspergillus ostianus, Botrytis cinerea, Bremia lactucae (Downy mildew), Centrospora acerina, Cercospora cichorii, Didymosphaeria exigua, Erysiphe cichoracearum, Fuligo septica (slime mold), Leptosphaeria ogilviensis, Macrosporium commune, Marssonian panattoniana, Mycosphaerella compositarum, M. tassiana, Phoma cichoracearum, Phymatotrichum omnivorum, Pleospora herbarum, Puccinis cichorii, P. hieracii, P. junci, P. littoralis, Ramularia cichorii, R. lampsanae, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, Sclerotium rolfsii, Septoria endiviae, S. intybi, Sphaerotheca fuligines, S. humuli, Stagonospora vexata, Thielaviopsis basicola, Verticillium dahliae, Pythium debaryanum, Corticium vagum. Viruses which are known to attack chicory are: Argentine subflower, Cucumber mosaic, Spotted wilt, and Yellows virus. The parasitic plants, Cuscuta epithymum and C. pentagona, also attack chicory. The following nematodes have been isolated from chicory plants: Ditylenchus dipsaci, H. scliachtii, Meloidogyne arenaria, M. hapla, M. javanica, M. sp., Pratylenchus penetrans, P. pratensis, Paratylenchus macrodorus, and Tylenchus sp. (Golden, p.c., 1984).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
last update July 8, 1996