Chicory (cichorium intybus)
Chicory is something that you may have heard of in the context of flavouring (especially of tea and coffee, which is from the variety sativum), but you may not have recognised its wildflower cousin, cichorium intybus (common chicory) when you have seen it in the countryside. Found in many countries throughout the world as a native species, including Britain and parts of Europe, this wildflower is usually blue, though is occasionally pink or white, and is a member of the daisy family.
Where to see common chicory
Often found in meadows and hedgerows, the perennial chicory plant has a single stalk with numerous short offshoots, at the ends of which grow the flowers. When first emerging, the bright blue wildflowers’ petals are curved inwards lengthways, and look a little like very small bananas. When the petals unroll you can see that they have serrated tips, typically with five points to each tip; these are in fact five narrow petals fused together to form a single petal. When fully developed, the flower heads are about the same size as a dandelion flower, and they bloom between late spring and late autumn.
In the centre of the flower are dark blue and light blue striped anther tubes from which extend the stamen, which are split. The sepals from which the flowers sprout are green, hairy and have reddish tips. The leaves are narrow and pointed and covered in fine hairs.
Chicory for gardeners and beekeepers
Crucially for gardeners, cichorium intybus is featured on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list. The RHS list is a great resource for anyone searching for wildflowers for their gardens or allotments that will attract fauna (especially bees, which we all know are struggling to thrive at the moment). The honeybee is particularly drawn to chicory, which makes this a great addition to any garden.
Chicory for medicinal use
Traditionally, chicory has been used in herbal medicine to treat a range of gastrointestinal ailments including gastroenteritis, gallstones and constipation; it has also been used to treat gout and jaundice. It is not recommended for consumption during pregnancy. The young leaves are often used in salads (though these are more palatable if blanched, as the raw leaves are rather bitter).
Chicory is available as part of Turfonline’s range of wildflower-sown turf, perfect for adding to your garden as a natural border or as a wildflower feature. As part of a wide range of pre-seeded wildflowers within the turf, it will add a splash of blue to your garden and attract those bees, helping them to survive. The wildflowers included in Meadowmat turf feature on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list and flower at various times during the year to maximise the bloom time within your garden, making them not only beautiful to look at and enjoy but also vital for the survival of many species of bees and pollinating insects.