YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is one of those “love ’em or hate ’em” plants. For one thing, it’s not what you’d call a pretty plant. While the flowers are attractive, they blossom from a rather gangly set of woody, grooved, somewhat bristly stems. It’s not without reason it’s been described as “one of the most scraggly plants ever brought to these shores by European colonists.”

The fact it’s an introduced species is another reason some people don’t like them. Exactly when and how it crossed the pond from Europe is uncertain; the late 1600s to 1700s is the best guess, and definitely more “guess” than “best”.

Chicory is defined by the US Department of Agriculture as a “naturalized plant”, a “non-native plant that does not need human help to reproduce and maintain itself over time in an area where it is not native.” But we must look at two other USDA classifications — “invasive plant” and “noxious weed”.

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USDA defines an invasive as “a plant that is both non-native and able to establish on many sites, grow quickly, and spread to the point of disrupting plant communities or ecosystems.” A noxious weed is “any plant or plant product that can directly or indirectly injure or cause damage to crops (including nursery stock or plant products), livestock, poultry or other interests of agriculture, irrigation, navigation, the natural resources of the United States, the public health, or the environment.”

Well, we’re happy to announce Chicory does not come up on the USDA Federal Invasive/Noxious Weed Search Site. Furthermore, neither the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture nor the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources list it as invasive or noxious.

Nevertheless, opinions on chicory continue to be divided, between people who think chicory should be uprooted and destroyed wherever it’s found, and others who feel it’s not a problem, and may at times be beneficial to cultivate. You might want to check with your local municipality; some have rules against cultivating the plant.

Chicory does have its pluses. The leaves are often used in salads, though they can be slightly bitter. Cooking leaves reduces bitterness, and they can be used in a variety of dishes. But the most often part of chicory is the root. When baked, roasted, ground, and it is often mixed in with coffee. There are a variety of coffee/chicory blends popular around the world, ranging from coffee with a little chicory, to coffee with a lot of chicory, to just the chicory with no coffee whatsoever. In the United States, adding chicory to coffee first became popular during the Civil War, particularly in New Orleans, which was a major coffee importer before hostilities broke out. With coffee imports cut off by the Union blockade, the residents turned to “chicory coffee”, and liked it so much that they kept making it even after the war ended.

To look at the USDA Federal Invasive/Noxious Weed Search Site, click here.

To see the USDA list of weeds, click here.

To see the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture list of noxious weeds, click here

To see definitions of terms relating to questionable plants, click here.