Endive – What Is This Plant That Gives A Bitter But Crisp Flavor To Salads?

A salad garden isn’t complete without endives! Endive (Cichorium endivia) is similar in appearance to lettuce and also share the same growing habits.

As a matter of fact, both greens belong to the same family, Asteraceae. Dandelions and chicory also belong to the same family. Endives are often confused with chicory, or Belgian endive, a different plant from the same genus.

Endives are rich in vitamins and minerals, vitamin A and K, folate, and fibers. Saute it or chop them into soups and stews, or eat them raw in salads – they’ll add a fresh, distinctive taste to everything they go in.

What is the endive plant? Is there anything you need to know about it before you start growing them in your home garden? Continue reading, and you’ll learn everything about endives that you have been wondering for so long.

Common NameEndive
Botanical NameCichorium Endivia
Plant TypeBiennial But Usually Grown As An Annual
Size (Fully Grown)8 To 20 Inches (About 20 To 51 cm)
Sun ExposureFull Sun But Tolerates Partial Shade As Well
Soil TypeLoamy Soil That Retains Moisture And Is Rich In Nutrients
Soil pHFrom 5.0 To 6.8
Flower ColorBlue To Purple
U.S. Hardiness Zones4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, And 11
Native AreaSouth Asia

How Many Types Of Endive Are There?

There are two main classifications of endives that you should know about: frisee and escarole. Here’s a little more info about the two varieties to help you make your selection:

Frisee (Cichorium endivia var. crispa) – Frisee, or curly endive, has narrow, curly, green leaves. You’ll find many varieties under this classification, adapted to growing under different conditions and different seasons.

  1. Galia
  2. Tosca
  3. Frisan
  4. President
  5. Salad King
  6. Tres Fine Endive
  7. Green Curled Ruffec

Escarole (Cichorium endivia var. latifolia) – Then there’s escarole, which has broad, pale green leaves, slightly less bitter than the other variety.

  1. Coral
  2. Sinco
  3. Sinco Escarole
  4. Florida Deep Heart
  5. Full Heart Batavian
  6. Broad-leaved Batavian

No matter which endive type you choose to grow, you’ll be equally pleased. The plant is easy to grow, which means that you can add a fresh, healthy green to your dinner table. All kinds of endives are excellent ingredients for fresh salads, soups, stews, and curries.

Where Does Endive Come From?

Let’s track the endives back to their roots. The greens that we’re so fond of today have been used for decades. But where did it come from? Where was it first cultivated, and how did it spread across continents? Learning its history will help you know more about the vegetable and figure out the answer to what is the endive plant.

Endives have an intriguing history. You can think of them as a newbie to the vegetable family. While most other vegetables have been around for centuries, endives only go back 190 years. You might not believe it, but the world was introduced to these fresh, crunchy vegetables by accident!

In 1830, Jan Lammers, a farmer in Brussels, Belgium, went to take part in the Belgium War of Independence. He had stored chicory root in a cellar in his farm with plans to prepare coffee substitute with it once it dried. Sitting in damp, dark conditions of the basement, the chicory roots produced very different results.

The farmer came back to roots that had sprouted tiny white leaves. He tasted the leaves and found them moist, crunchy, with a slightly bitter taste. This was a new vegetable he saw – endive!

From Jan Lammers, the discovery moved on to a Belgian botanist, Brezier. He polished the cultivar to make it possible for people to cultivate it commercially. By 1846, endives had appeared in the Belgian markets, and in 1872, the new veggie was also introduced in Paris. Today, endives are being cultivated in many parts of the globe, including the United States.

What Does Endive Look Like?

Endive is an erect plant with a thick taproot below the ground. The leaves grow vertically until the plant stands about 28 inches (about 70 cm) tall.

The leaves of the plant can be curly or smooth, depending on the variety. The rosette of leaves encloses a central branched stem. This is the flowering stem which sets flowers and gives seeds once the plant bolts.

Root

Endives grow a long taproot, with smaller horizontal roots branching out from the central one. Although we don’t usually eat the roots, they’re edible, but they have a bitter taste, so maybe that’s why.

Leaves

Like all the other green vegetables, endives are grown for their fresh, crunchy leaves. They form rosettes just like cabbages with broad leaves, which can be curly or smooth, depending on the variety.

Although they make a great addition to fresh salads, please don’t add them as the main ingredient since they’re slightly bitter. Gardeners often blanch endives to reduce the bitterness of leaves.

The leaves are harvested about 90 days after sowing the seeds, once they’re 5 to 6 inches (about 12 to 15 cm) tall. When you cut off the leaves slightly above soil level, the plant regrows, producing many rounds of harvest for continuous supply to your dinner table.

Flowers

Endives produce ligulate flowers with a blue color, which appear on flowering stems shooting high above the foliage. It’s unlikely that the plant will flower if the harvest is completed before early winters. If you delay the harvesting or don’t harvest it at all, the plant may bolt and produce flowering stems. This is a result of low temperatures and short days.

Endive Is An Excellent Addition To Salads
© Claudio Divizia – stock.adobe.com

In What Growing Conditions Do Endives Grow Best In?

So now you have your answer to what the endive plant is. The next thing you might be wondering about is whether you can plant it in your garden.

Does Your Climate Support Its Cultivation?

Understand the growing requirements of the plant before you make it a part of your garden. You wouldn’t want to waste your time and efforts on something that fruitless – or, in this case, leafless!

The Temperature

Endives are cool-season crops that take about 85 to 100 days of moderate temperatures before reaching harvest. The optimal growing temperatures for endives lie in the range of 60 to 65°F (about 15 to 18°C).

The seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is between 60 to 68°F (about 15 to 20°C). Although the plant can germinate at temperatures lower than 60°F (about 15°C), the process will be much slower. But remember that if the plant gets exposed to temperatures higher than 77°F (about 25°C), the seed can go into thermal dormancy.

The seeds are usually sown directly in the ground in late spring, a few weeks before the last expected frost date. Succession plantings are made to all come to harvest before the temperatures exceed 80°F (about 27°C). If you live in a mild-winter region, you can plant them through autumn and winter.

The Climate

You can plant endives successfully in most regions, as long as the temperatures aren’t too high. They like to grow in full sun, although they’re also tolerant to partial shade.

Well-worked, moisture-retentive soil, amended with aged compost, is best for their growth. They prefer their soil pH to be slightly acidic, with a pH level between 5.0 to 6.8.

Water the plants well, keeping and try to keep the soil evenly moist. Lack of moisture can increase the bitterness of the leaves. Additionally, side-dressing the plants with aged compost around mid-season is also a common practice to enhance growth.

Many gardeners like to blanch the plants 2 to 3 weeks before harvest to eliminate some of the bitterness. This involves covering the plants to block their sunlight and lower the production of chlorophyll. A lower chlorophyll concentration in the leaves will make them less bitter before you harvest and consume them.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Endives?

Endives are incredibly healthy, just like all other leafy greens. They’re low on calories, full of nutrients with a delectable bitter flavor that’s hard to resist. But, are there any medical conditions in which its consumption needs to be monitored or avoided? Are there any risks associated with excessive consumption that you need to be aware of? Here’s some useful information you need to know.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Endives are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, but it’s best to take them in moderate amounts. It’s a good source of folates, which promotes a healthy pregnancy.

But, keep in mind that there’s a risk of toxoplasmosis being transmitted through vegetables when you consume them raw without washing them properly. In other words, the better option is to wash them properly and consume them after you’ve cooked them thoroughly.

Children

They’re healthy for children, and you can feed them to your child when they are as young as six months old. To ensure that your kids like them, puree and mix them with potatoes to reduce the bitterness. They are a good source of Vitamin B, which is a vital nutrient for growing children.

People With Allergies

Endive allergies are uncommon. But, of course, there’s a possibility of having one. People allergic to the plants in the Asteraceae can also be allergic to endives. If you’re allergic to daisies, marigolds, and other members of the same family, contact a healthcare provider before consuming or handling endives.

People With Diabetes

Because endive can regulate your blood sugar levels, it’s pretty clear that it suits your diet if you have diabetes.

Pets

Endives are safe for your pets as long as they are cooked and served in moderate amounts. An excess amount of endives in their diet can cause stomach problems.

Featured image credit – © artesiawells – stock.adobe.com

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