By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
The chicory plant belongs in the daisy family and is closely related to dandelions. It has a deep taproot, which is the source of a coffee substitute popular in many regions. How long does chicory live? As with any plant, its lifespan depends upon site, weather, animal and insect intervention, and many other factors. The way growers treat the plant may be an indication of the chicory lifespan in commercial settings.
Chicory Lifespan Info
Plant lifespan is often a subject of debate. This is because not only do natural and man-made conditions affect the plant’s duration of life, but also its usefulness. So, is chicory an annual or perennial? Continue reading to see which…or if there is a third, unexpected choice.
Chicory is native to Europe and likely brought to North America by settlers. During World War II, coffee was scarce and the herb’s roots were used as a substitute. It is still in use today, especially in New Orleans, whose French influence has kept it on the menu. The harvested root is the part made into a coffee substitute, and the act will inevitably kill most plants.
But how long does chicory live without human intervention? The experts say it can live 3 to 7 years. That makes it a short-lived perennial. In harvest situations, roots are taken in fall and that is the end of the plant. Occasionally, some part of the root is left behind and the plant will re-sprout in fall. If this happens, it can be harvested anew.
Is Chicory an Annual or Perennial?
In commercial settings, the plants are carefully harvested two times. The reason for the number two is because when roots become any older, they are extremely bitter. That makes for an unpleasant drink. Because of this, growers treat them as biennial chicory plants.
Once it is too old, the plant is scrapped and new plants are installed. Here is where we have a twist. There is another type of chicory, Cichorium foliosum. This variety is actually grown for its leaves, which are used in salads. It is an annual to biennial plant. Cichorium intybus is the variety most often grown for its roots and the long-lived type of chicory.
So, you see, it depends which type of chicory we are speaking of and what its purpose might be. Technically, the root variety is a perennial, but because of the pungency of the root over time, it is rarely harvested after the plant is 2 years old. And the annual salad version may be grown into its second year in order to harvest the tasty and medicinal flowers, but after that the plant dies.
Chicory has a multitude of purposes besides culinary. Both annual and perennial plants have healing properties, provide important animal forage, and have topical and internal medicinal benefits.
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Storing unused vegetable or flower seeds does require some care. To remain viable, seeds must not be exposed to any moisture or extreme temperature fluctuations. They should be kept in a cool dry place. Some people store them in sealed plastic bags, while others keep them in glass jars in the refrigerator. Whatever works best for you is fine, but the important thing is that they not be exposed to moisture. Wetness can quickly cause mold to grow, killing the seeds.
Let’s say you have some seeds that are a couple of years old. At this point, you really can’t be certain if they are going to germinate, even if they’ve been stored under optimum conditions in a dry, cool place.
In this situation, you can test the seeds a few weeks before planting time by taking several seeds, placing them on a moist paper towel, covering it with plastic and placing it in a warm spot. Check back in a week or so and if you have sprouts you’ll know the seeds are viable.
The 10 best known edible perennials:
1. Rhubarb – Rheum rhabarbarum
Though the temptation is hard to resist, you cannot harvest rhubarb in the first year, you must first wait for it to establish roots. You will have to wait and see how this plant will only get bigger and bigger as the seasons pass.
It is said that a single rhubarb plant can last 20 years, before needing to be replaced. In the meantime, enjoy all you can of the tart stalks, being careful to stay clear of the leaves which are poisonous.
Rhubarb pairs well with strawberries – which are also a perennial of the fruiting kind!
Make sure to plant enough of both, to ensure tasty jams, jellies and sauces for years to come.
2. Sorrel – Rumex acetosa
One of the earliest greens to emerge from the soil each spring, is sorrel. Call it tangy, zingy or lemony, sorrel has a unique flavor that takes some getting used to. And yet it provides many essential nutrients just as we are coming out of winter.
Sorrel produces well until June, then it begins to flower. You’ll want to pick the leaves while they are young and tender for the finest sorrel sauce.
Being that sorrel is not sold as supermarket produce, find some seeds and plant your own.
3. Chives – Allium schoenoprasum
Chives are, however, sold at markets and stores. The question is: how fresh are they by the time they make it to your table?
Isn’t it ultimately better to step outside, harvest a small bunch, chop them up and add them to salads and dips – all in a matter of minutes?
You’ll be pleased to know that chives are very hardy. Such vigorous growers in fact, that they will need dividing every few years.
4. Asparagus – Asparagus officinalis
If you have extra space in your garden, asparagus will be happy to take it over. It grows both tall and wide, giving you a couple of decades’ worth of asparagus spears in exchange for your loving care.
But it can be choosy about where it resides. They love sun and soil that drains well. Once they are planted, they are there to stay.
Growing asparagus is not exactly for beginners, though if you eat it a lot, learning to grow it will become second nature.
Asparagus can be grown from seed but it’s much easier to plant bare-root crowns directly into the ground.
Take a look here for the best reviewed bare-root asparagus plants.
5. Jerusalem artichoke – Helianthus tuberosus
Once upon a time we had a patch of sunchokes, and they popped up reliably year after year. One summer we had three months without rain, and no water in the well to water our garden.
Sage and these artichokes. If you are looking for a drought-tolerant perennial, this is the one.
A note of caution: if you are new to growing and eating Jerusalem artichokes: don’t eat too many at once. They are not a substitute for potatoes.
6. Globe artichoke – Cynara scolymus
In terms of height, artichokes often come out on top – at about 5′ to be sure. It is beautiful from head to toe, and although it has a long growing season, the flavor is well worth the wait.
Artichokes can be grown either as an annual or a perennial. In the latter case, they must be protected during the winter months.
Before planting, find out what varieties grow best in your zone, then wait 2 years for the first harvest.
You may have started to notice that perennials share a common theme – you will have to wait some time for the best bites.
7. Horseradish – Armoracia rusticana
If you are looking to add some warmth to your winter meals, a little bit of grated horseradish goes a long way. The best way to get to that root, is to harvest it fresh, for as long as you can dig the soil.
It is in the same Cruciferae family as broccoli, cabbages and Brussels sprouts, yet it is hardier than all three combined.
Add some zesty root to your potato salad or serve up a spicy bloody Mary – depending on the time of day, and company of course.
8. Watercress – Nasturtium officinale
If you love slightly peppery leaves, similar to that of arugula/rocket, then you are going to adore watercress from your own backyard.
It isn’t the simplest-to-care-for plant, as it is also attractive to many pests such as snails, white flies and spider mites.
But, some of the best things in life take time and work. With the right set-up you can harvest vitamins A and C from watercress year round. Not only that, watercress is rich in niacin, thiamine and iron, better than an ordinary leafy salad!
9. Garlic (typically grown as an annual) – Allium sativum
You already know the benefits of planting garlic in the fall, now you are about to find out that you can also keep it in the ground as a perennial.
Leave the bulbs in the soil for a couple of seasons (assuming that you are not digging up the garden!) and let them multiply on their own. You’ll end up with a bunch of small bulbs, not entire heads, but with loads of garlic scapes to use up.
And that is a wonderful thing! Here are 10+ Ways to Use Garlic Scapes @ Grow a Good Life – just to get you started thinking of the possibilities.
Now you can divide those individual bulbs, and plant them just as you would an individual clove, and keep the harvests coming.
Read more about growing garlic as a perennial here.
10. Kale (typically grown as an annual) – Brassica oleracea var. sabellica
Kale is a hardy annual with a short time to harvest.
The real beauty lies in the fact that you can harvest leaves until the first frosts hit and the snowflakes fly.
Technically, kale is a biennial, yet it is treated like an annual. However, it can also be a perennial, depending on how you stretch your reality.
If you leave it in the garden over winter, covered with mulch, it will begin to regrow in early spring, sending up new shoots and leaves. Again, it takes a no-dig approach, so make sure to plan your garden accordingly.
Annual and Perennial Herbs for Your Garden
Basil is an annual herb that lasts one year.
When planning your herb garden, it’s important to keep in mind the growth habits of each plant. Some herbs are annuals, some are perennials, and some form small evergreen shrubs.
Here’s a guide to some popular herbs for kitchen gardens:
Annual herbs live for only one year. They can be cut and enjoyed all summer, but since they’ll be killed by cold weather, they should be harvested before the first frost. Some annual herbs, such as dill, can self-seed if you allow it to bloom near the end of summer.
Annual herbs include:
- German Chamomile
- Summer Savory
- Parsley (lives two years, but is usually grown as an annual for best flavor)
Perennial herbs live for two or more years, often growing and spreading each year. These herbs will die back to the ground in winter and sprout anew in spring. Winter hardiness varies with different types of herbs, so be sure to check your hardiness zone before planting.
If a perennial herb isn’t winter hardy in your area, you can still grow it in pots that you bring indoors in the fall, or just treat it like an annual and replant next spring.
- Caraway (blooms in second year)
- Chives Chives
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon Grass
- Roman Chamomile
- Winter Savory
Evergreen Perennial Herbs
These hardy perennial herbs form woody, shrubby stems and stay green all winter, so they’re great for incorporating into your permanent landscape design.
Evergreen perennial herbs include:
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there is no information on the licorice herb
My Mom and I are starting a herb and green tea farm in Valley Center, CA. This is our first year here, and is a trial and error for us trying to get used to the climate, water availability, and which plants do well. My Mother and Grandmother (passed away) are fond of gardening and herbs. Green tea is my idea and I have a great passion for this. For me learning about herbs is a new thing. So, websites like this is my start and hopefully will develop myself as a competent gardener!!
I have planted many rosemary plants and they never seem to make it through the winter. What am I doing wrong?
I know this post is old but it’s worth a shot, does anyone know a good place to get green tea plants?
Shirley Stivers, I plant mine in a pot and bring it in for the winter. I have had the same plant for maybe 3 -4 years ans it does very well. In the winter I water about once a week. Good luck with that.
I live in the Bronx and my gardening is done from containers on my fire escape. my lemon thyme seems to make it for only a couple of months and once I begin pruning, it dies out and never returns. I get eight hours of great sunlight. I let mother nature water my plant. now and again I have to go in and water myself. I think I’m doing everything right but it never seems to work out for me. What am I doing wrong? Oh, and I use miracle-gro fertilizer every two weeks. help!
I have two oregano plants , one plant has pink flowers the other oregano plant has white flowers
The oregano plant with white flowers has very tough thicker leaves
The oregano plant with the pink flowers has smaller smooth leaves
Can you tell me. What is the difference between these two different plants
Also are they both perinnal ?
I planted Basil last year and it came back this year. My thyme and rosemary did not.
Grow rosemary in a pot and bring it in for winter. Certain varieties do better in winter so look around for varieties of rosemary. Thyme, same thing l I had a thyme plant that came back 3 years in a row until it got too large for my giant planter and I had to pull it up as it did not come back the 4th year.
I’ve noticed that Sage is not on any of your lists. It is a fabulous addition to your herb garden. I live in the SF Bay Area and it grows as an evergreen herb here, I don’t know about colder climates. I use it fresh but I also dry leaves.