Cichorium intybus L.
Common names: blue dandelion, chicory (Eng.); sigorei (Afr.)
Most people will only admire this pretty, blue-flowered weed along roads and in abandoned fields and not know its other useful properties. Although mostly seen as a weed in South Africa, it is widely cultivated here, but more commonly in Europe and other parts of the world.
Cichorium intybus is a perennial, woody herb of about 1.2 m tall. Plants characteristically contain a bitter, milky sap. Leaves are produced in a rosette at the base of the plant, on top of a long, fleshy taproot.
Flowering stems are round, erect, hollow, nearly leafless and produce stiff spreading branches. Inflorescences are made up of several dozen flower heads, with 12–30 ligulate florets each.
Florets are bright blue or sometimes white or pink, bisexual and have long, strap-shaped limbs with 5 apical teeth, lasting only for a day. Achenes have no feathery pappus, but only a row of toothed scales.
Flowering starts around midwinter (July) and lasts until late spring (October).
Cichorium intybus is a naturalized weed in South Africa and is not assessed in the National Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Cichorium intybus is an invasive weed that normally grows in open fields, disturbed areas, bare land, ditches, along cultivated fields and roadsides. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil and is also drought resistant.
This species is originally from Europe and northern parts of Africa, but is now widespread in South Africa and other temperate or semi-arid regions of the world.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Chicorium is from the Greek word kichore, commonly known as chicory. Intybus is from the Egyptian word tybi, for ‘January’, the month in which the vegetable is commonly eaten.
Circium intybus has many subspecific names described for the various cultivated strains, although they are not currently used in modern classifications.
Flowers of the chicory produce copious pollen and are a rich source of nectar. Plants are pollinated by a variety of bees and flies.
The seeds of the Cichorium intybus are readily dispersed by insects and water. It is also harvested by humans in cultivation.
Although all parts of a chicory plant are very bitter, the whole plant is edible. Plants are cultivated or harvested in the wild and often also grown as an ornamental.
Chicory has been cultivated since ancient times, as far back as 300 BC. Some of the earliest references to chicory eaten as a vegetable, was by Horas (a Roman lyric poet) who lived around 65–8 BC. The bitterness of the plant is reduced by cooking it and discarding the water. It can then be used as a leaf herb cooked with food or shredded in salads and served with oil and vinegar.
The best known use of chicory root is as a coffee substitute. It started in 1766, when Fredrich the Great banned the importation of coffee to Prussia, which lead to a large industry in Brunswick and Berlin, to produce chicory. During times of war when coffee was scarce, chicory was mostly used.
Chicory roots are baked, roasted and ground and used instead of coffee or blended with coffee. Chicory does not contain caffeine and has gained popularity with people allergic to caffeine or wanting to cut down on caffeine. It also helps digestion.
In South Africa, chicory is cultivated mainly in the Eastern Cape around Alexandria, where around 20 000 ton (4.0–4.5 ton dry) is produced annually.
Chicory is well known for its toxicity and often used to get rid of internal parasites in animals, by mixing the plants with their fodder.
The boiled mixture of chicory roots and leaves, is used medicinally as a relief from liver problems, treatment of gout and rheumatic conditions, to treat the lack of appetite, diabetes and many other ailments.
Growing Cichorium intybus
Cichorium intybus is usually propagated by seeds, which is sown in seed trays and planted out when the seedlings are strong. Best time to sow is March, so it can be planted out in winter. Seeds can also be sown directly in flower beds in full sun, where it needs to be watered regularly. Plants prefer deep, rich soils that are well drained.
- Eat the weeds. Chicory history. http://www.eattheweeds.com/cichorium-intybus-burned-to-a-crisp-2/. Accessed 24 May 2017.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1977. Compositae in Natal. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Roberts, M. 2000. A–Z of herbs. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.
- Swanepoel, D.P. 1997. The medicinal value of the southern African Asteraceae. M.Sc. dissertation. Pretoria: University of Pretoria. South Africa: 116.
- Van Wyk, B. & Malan, S. 1997. Field guide to the wild flowers of the Highveld. 2nd edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Wikipedia. Chicory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicory. Accessed 24 May 2017.
Millicent Ndou & Dr M. Koekemoer
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
PH: Alkaline, Neutral
Flower colour: Blue, White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy