The chicory or succory plant, Cichorium Intybus (natural order, Compositae), in its wild state is a native of Great Britain, occurring most frequently in dry chalky soils, and by road-sides. It has a long fleshy tap-root, a rigid branching hairy stem rising to a height of 2 or 3 ft.—the leaves around the base being lobed and toothed, not unlike those of the dandelion. The flower heads are of a bright blue colour, few in number, and measure nearly an inch and a half across. Chicory is cultivated much more extensively on the continent of Europe—in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany—than in Great Britain; and as a cultivated plant it has three distinct applications. Its roots roasted and ground are used as a substitute for, adulterant of, or addition to coffee; both roots and leaves are employed as salads; and the plant is grown as a fodder or herbage crop which is greedily consumed by cattle.
In Great Britain it is chiefly in its first capacity, in connexion with coffee, that chicory is employed. A large proportion of the chicory root used for this purpose is obtained from Belgium and other neighbouring continental countries; but a considerable quantity is cultivated in England, chiefly in Yorkshire. For the preparation of chicory the older stout white roots are selected, and after washing they are sliced up into small pieces and kiln-dried. In this condition the material is sold to the chicory roaster, by whom it is roasted till it assumes a deep brown colour; afterwards when ground it is in external characteristics very like coffee, but is destitute of its pleasing aromatic odour. Neither does the roasted chicory possess any trace of the alkaloid caffeine which gives their peculiar virtues to coffee and tea. The fact, however, that for over a hundred years it has been successfully used as a substitute for or recognized addition to coffee, while in the meantime innumerable other substances have been tried for the same purpose and abandoned, indicates that it is agreeable and harmless. It gives the coffee additional colour, bitterness and body. It is at least in very extensive and general use; and in Belgium especially its infusion is largely drunk as an independent beverage.
The blanched leaves are much esteemed by the French as a winter salad known by the name of Barbe de capucin.