You can see the clear blue flowers of chicory plants rising high on stiff stems along roadsides and in wild, uncultivated areas in this country. These plants have many different uses, but most gardeners simply grow them as edible vegetables. If you decide to plant chicory in your garden, you’ll want to scope out different chicory plant varieties. Each has its own characteristics, uses and growth requirements. Read on to learn about different chicory plants and how to choose among the many varieties of chicory.
Types of Chicory
If you have decided to plant chicory in your garden, you will have several chicory plant varieties to choose among. The three basic types of chicory are Belgian endive, radicchio and puntarelle, but you can get different cultivars of some of these.
Belgian Endive – One of the three different chicory plants available for your garden is Belgian endive. Do not confuse this with regular endive lettuce that you buy in the grocery store. Belgian endive is one of the types of chicory plant, with crisp, pale-yellow foliage. Its bitter leaves are delicious if you grill them or stuff and cook them.
Radicchio – Radicchio is another of the varieties of chicory with leaves used for eating. It is sometimes called Italian chicory. Unlike other types of chicory, radicchio grows leaves that are dark purple with white veins.
You’ll likely see many varieties of chicory of this type, each named after a different Italian region, with Chioggia being the best known. In Europe, Italians eat radicchio varieties of chicory grilled or sautéed in olive oil, while in this country the leaves are usually tossed raw into salads.
Puntarelle – If you like arugula in your salad, you should consider different chicory plants, those called puntarelle. These plants produce slender, serrated leaves with the spiciness of argula as well as echoes of fennel.
The traditional way to use puntarelle is to toss it raw into salads, often with anchovies and a thick dressing. This is said to sweeten the chicory leaves. Some soak the leaves in water for a few hours before eating to accomplish the same end.