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Cichorium intybus

Castelfranco Chicory

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70 days. Chicory is coveted by top-end chefs, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where its cold hardiness lends itself to wintertime local production. We have been experimenting with hoophouse production here in Michigan and have found Castelfranco to be extremely hardy. This variety survived the 2014 polar vortex in our unheated hoophouse. Castelfranco forms a gorgeous loose head similar in form to looseleaf lettuce heads. Edible leaves are green with red speckles and are similar in texture to looseleaf lettuce. The flavor profile is similar to Radicchio and Endive (which are also types of Chicory). Italian in origin, Chicory has a bitter yet complex flavor, one to which American palettes are only beginning to gain exposure to. Castelfranco can be served raw in lettuce salads to add an interesting contrast to otherwise mild flavors. The bitterness of chicory adds delicious flavor complexity to cooked dishes. It is a common ingredient in Italian risottos. Braizing, broiling or grilling really brings out Castelefranco's sweetness. Pairing it with salt and/or sour flavor tames the bitterness. We like it browned in the broiler, brushed with olive oil and salt. Soaking in ice water can also remove bitterness. Chicory is a cool-loving crop and should be grown in the fall. Great for coldframes and hoophouses (see Growing Instructions). Baby greens can be harvested in an unheated hoophouse all winter long. Like most non-hybrid chicories, Castelfranco exhibits natural variation in size and color. WGS

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Growing Instructions (for USDA Zone 5b):

Chicory is a cool weather loving plant – so grow it in the fall. For heads: sow seeds July 1, 1/8” deep into containers placed in a coolish location (at 75° - seeds won’t germinate at temps over 86°). Days to germination: 7-10. Plant spacing: 12”. For baby leaf: sow seeds in garden soil Sept. 1st, 1/8” deep. Baby leaves are very cold hardy and will survive to about 0° if protected by a hoophouse.


Head: Harvest at full size before damaged too much by frost. Baby Leaves: when leaves are 2-4” tall, cut entire plant with scissors 1-2" above the soil so you don’t damage the growing crown.

Seed Saving Instructions (for gardeners):

Chicory is a difficult seed saving crop. They are cross pollinated by insects and will easily cross with the very common, Wild Chicory plants which will ruin the seed crop. Cichorium intybus are biennial – the plants need to survive the winter (in a hoophouse) in order to flower in year two. Inspect plants and only allow good plants to flower for seed. Isolation: ½ mile or caging.

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Seed Stories

Wild Chicory (Cichorum intybus) is indigenous to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia and has been used medicinally for centuries. Wild Chicory was introduced into the U.S. during European colonization and has become a widespread wild plant.  Its roasted root is made into a drink similar to coffee. Castelfranco is a domesticated (not wild) chicory. Cultivation of modern chicories began in Italy in the 15th century. Italian and French cuisine appreciate bitter flavor, while it is rather new to the American palette. The most common forms of cultivated Chicories in the U.S. are Radicchio, Endive, and Escarole which find their way into upscale retail markets and restaurants. The wild form of chicory is widespread in southeast Michigan. Its abundance makes it impossible to grow quality cultivated chicory seed because the wild growing chicory will cross pollinate the cultivated chicory and ruin the seed crop. This is why we purchase our seed from our friends at Adaptive Seeds in Oregon, where wild chicory is not abundant.

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Growing Instructions