Winter greens – Wild Chicory

Wild Chicory is a plant with leaves that look rather like dandelion, but that surprises you with beautiful spikes of blue flowers all through the Summer and into Autumn. Bees adore it.

Wild Chicory in July
Wild Chicory in July 2020

I obtained my seeds from Bee Happy Plants, courtesy of a gift voucher from my lovely sister-in-law.

Over the last weekend in November this year, I cut down some of the remaining flower spikes that still had plenty of leaves on. The great thing about this plant is that you can also eat it. It is bitter, but this can be alleviated. I added a teaspoon of salt to cold water in a trug, and popped the leaves in to soak for a few hours. This keeps them fresh until we are ready to use them, and the salt draws out some of the bitterness.

Then the cook of our household (not me; I’m the gardener) boiled them for a few minutes until they were tender and wilted. He then sautéed them in butter which also adds some sweetness to counteract the residual bitterness. I think they could also be dressed with olive oil and lemon, and we may try this next time. They have a slight bitter flavour which very quickly fades away.

As mineral accumulator, chicory is full of nutrients and therefore a valuable winter green when you are running out of other crops (as I am now, having harvested something green practically every day for the whole year).

But the best thing about all this was that deadheading became dinner. Waste not, want not.

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Leaves aplenty

Last chance to collect leaves for next year’s leaf mould! This is the new leaf mould bin on the plot, made from some wire grids that were wombled and passed onto me by the previous boatman on the adjacent canal side mooring.

Leaf mould bin

The garlic leaves are well on their way up now, and the sea beet is finally growing leafy. It clearly appreciates the deeper soil that it gets here, compared with the shallow bed it was in at home in the garden.

Garlic and Sea Beet

The salad leaves are growing well underneath their simple protection of a fleecy blanket held down with stones. There is also chickweed growing in the gaps between the planks, which I love because it adds visual interest and it is also edible.

Horticultural fleece, and chickweed growing in edges

First harvest from the plot

Yesterday I picked the first leafy harvest for our dinner. The lettuce seedlings, which were given to me by the neighbouring narrowboat resident when he left the mooring, had grown enough to take a few leaves for eating. They are crisp and firm, and likely to overwinter well I think. I also harvested several leaves of the wonderful, fast growing giant red mustard. Those are the red-veined leaves that you can see in the picture. They are also winter hardy.

It is good to come full circle, from building the plot to taking the first harvest.

Salad leaves