Escarole is one of those rare herbs that has its origins in Latin America. While most herbs originated in warmer climates with shorter growing seasons, Escarole is relatively rare and grows best in cool weather with a somewhat shorter growing season. It is named after the town of Moraira in the eastern state of Especiale, near Quepos, Argentina. However, it can be found almost anywhere south of the equator, which explains why in some parts of the United States it is referred to as ‘chocolate-flavored basil’.
Like other members of the beguile flower family (loris family), the escarole plant grows on roots that attach to the soil. The leaves are dark green and the stems are slightly lighter green. The leaves are the only part of the plant with leaves that bear any visible fruit, as the other parts of the plant have white flowers attached. This makes it easy to recognize a typical Escarole from other members of the beguile flower family. One difference that you may notice is that the leaves of this plant are slightly lighter green than most other members of the family.
One of the many characteristics of this plant is that it has many different uses. While it traditionally serves as a vegetable (and now is easily used in salad dressings), it can also be used for cooking and added to sauces. It can even be used in place of spinach in cooked soups or stews, although the flavor may be a bit different. It has a slightly bitter taste that is somewhat like an English cucumber. You can use it to keep leaves off spinach plants, although the leaves on spinach plants should be kept separate from the roots, which is why escarole plants are not planted together.
A related plant, curly endive, looks very much like the escarole plant but has slightly larger and straighter leaves. It has very curly roots and is a perfect grower, being able to grow up to four feet high. Unlike its sister plant, curly endive is not a vegetable. Instead, it grows as a vine, climbing walls and fences to reach light and sending down runners as well as little root rafts.
Like all members of the beguile family, escarole can be divided into two types, the curly-leaf and the hardy curly-leaf. The curly-leaf has larger blooms and larger leaves, while the hardy variety is usually found in the southern United States. The hardy variety of curly-leaf has larger blooms and leaves. Both types come in a range of colors, although some have darker colors than others. Lettuce leaves and other leafy green plants are perfect for growing escarole.
Other members of the beguile family are also great plants for growing in borders, including chicory, chives, chervil, kohlrabi, parsley and tarragon. These varieties are more drought resistant than most of the rest, making them ideal for areas where there is not too much rain. For those who are looking for a way to bring color to their garden, an assortment of chicory, kohlrabi, chervil, and tarragon would definitely be a great addition to any landscaping project.