Cichorium Intybus - Common Chicory | Center Moriches, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Cichorieae
Genus: Cichorium
Species: C. intybus
Binomial name
Cichorium intybus

Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or for roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. It is also grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and now common in North America, China, and Australia where it has become widely naturalized.

“Chicory” is also the common name in the United States for curly endive (Cichorium endivia); these two closely related species are often confused.

The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae” (“As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”). In 1766, Frederick the Great banned the importation of coffee into Prussia leading to the development of a coffee-substitute by Brunswick innkeeper Christian Gottlieb Förster (died 1801), who gained a concession in 1769/70 to manufacture it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795 there were 22 to 24 factories of this type in Brunswick. Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the “chicoree”, which the French cultivated as a pot herb. In Napoleonic Era France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee, or as a coffee substitute. Chicory was also adopted as a coffee substitute by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, and has become common in the United States. It was also used in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where Camp Coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, has been on sale since 1885.

The cultivated chicory plant has a history reaching back to ancient Egyptian time. Medieval monks raised the plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink.

In the United States chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons. By the 1840s, the port of New Orleans was the second largest importer of coffee (after New York). Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the American Civil War cut off the port of New Orleans, thereby creating a long-standing tradition.

A common meal in Rome, puntarelle, is made with chicory sprouts. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Chicory is a native plant of western Asia, North Africa and Europe.

Chicory is also mentioned in certain sericulture (silk-growing) texts. It is said that the primary caretaker of the silkworms, the “silkworm mother”, should not eat or even touch it.

The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue Flower (e. g. in German language ‘Blauwarte’ ≈ ‘blue lookout by the wayside’). It could open locked doors, according to European folklore. Read more

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