Chicory Cichorium intybus
IDENTIFICATION — The line between wildflower and weed can be narrow. With chicory, or blue sailor weed as it’s sometimes called, what one person considers a lovely blue flower, a neighbor might consider a weed. This is one of those perennials that can go either way.
In summer, branched flower stems spring up from the center of a low rosette of leaves that looks very much like a dandelion. These tough stems can reach more than 7 ft. tall, but the average is usually less than 3 ft. The leaves along the tough stems are small and not very noticeable. Underground there’s a fleshy taproot that if broken, will “bleed” a milky white sap. But the daisylike flowers (usually blue, but sometimes pink or white) are what you’ll notice first.
Each morning the flowers open facing the rising sun. They last just one day, so by late afternoon they fade and wither. But rest assured there will be more tomorrow morning.
You can eat tender young chicory leaves in salads or as a cooked green. Roots are cooked and eaten or dried and ground to make a coffee substitute.
FAVORITE CONDITIONS — This European native has naturalized across much of North America. You’ll spot it growing along roadsides or the edge of your garden. It does not like areas that are frequently cultivated or mowed to less than 2 in. tall.
CONTROL — Just like a dandelion, chicory spreads mainly by seeds, so you’ll want to keep it from setting seeds. However, pieces of root will also grow quite easily. Repeatedly mowing the plant short, or cutting it off at the soil line will eventually kill it. The taproot is hard to pull from the ground, even after soaking the area with water first. Broadleaf or non-selective herbicides are also effective at getting rid of chicory.