Common chicory is native to Europe, but it was introduced to North America
and Australia, where it has become widespread.
Identification: Plants are 24-48" (60-121 cm) high, with tough grooved stems.
Stems branch sparsely, looking unruly and sometimes lying almost sideways. Broken branches
ooze a milky sap.
Flowers are about 1" (2.5 cm) wide, blue, violet, or sometimes
white. Each petal tip has five serrations. The stigmas, small hairlike structures in the center, are
curled at the top and dark blue. The leaves remind me of dandelion leaves.
Chicory (Chichorium intybus). A, portion of flowering branch; B, basal leaf (runcinate-pinnatifid); C, median longitudinal section through a head, showing the insertion of the flowers; D, individual flower; E, fruit (ripened ovary), showing the persistent pappus (calyx) of short scales. From a scan at the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Original source unknown.
Edibility: Roots, after being baked and ground, have
long been used as a coffee additive or even substitute, for example, during the Great Depression
in America. Chicory root contains inulin, a starchlike substance just sweet enough to serve
as a sweetener in some applications. (Chicory root itself is very bitter, due to the presence of
several bitter agents.) Long term use of chicory may be deleterious to night vision, but this has
not been confirmed.