The artichoke (Cynara scolymus), is as old as human civilization itself; artichokes were cultivated by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. It is native to the Mediterranean region, an area of the world with one of the lowest rates of chronic disease and one of the highest life expectancies. It is a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower (Compositae) family. The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. If allowed to flower, the plant will produce a beautiful blossom of violet-blue color.
Here in the United States, chances are the artichoke you bring home from the market was grown in California. Nearly 100% of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California and 80% of those in and around the town of Castroville, in Monterey County, making it the artichoke “heart” of the world.
Despite it’s long history, if you consider the lowly artichoke nestled in its market display and shielded by it’s thorny exterior, it’s ultimate value may not be immediately obvious. In this era of fast food, the artichoke remains defiant–it offers no concessions to those who want a quick meal. It requires time to prepare and time to eat, petal by petal, until at last you reach the delectable heart inside.
But even though it looks more like a hand grenade than a vegetable, it would be a mistake to ignore the many health benefits that artichoke has to offer.
In a 2004 study conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture of 100 common foods found in U.S. markets, it was determined that cooked artichoke had an extremely high oxygen radical absorbance capacity, compared to other vegetables; it’s total antioxidant capacity was surpassed only by dried pinto and kidney beans. This is important because artichoke can help to eliminate free radicals from the body, thereby reducing the oxidative stress that has been associated with the development of many chronic and degenerative diseases, including cancer, heart disease and neural degeneration.
In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, the artichoke is also a choleretic, i.e., it helps to stimulate the production of bile by the liver. Artichokes also act as hepato-protectors; protecting liver cells from damage that can occur as they process toxins in the body. A 2003 study tested four commercially prepared whole artichoke extracts and confirmed that, when properly prepared and constituted and with the correct dosage, artichoke extract clearly demonstrated these beneficial effects on the liver.
Contraindications for the use of artichoke would include any form of bile duct blockage or obstruction and those with gallstones should seek the advice of their physician. People with an allergy to plants of the Asteraceae family should avoid artichoke; contact with the leaves or the plant itself may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
Fortunately, those who are able to consume artichokes can enjoy them in many ways, not only petal by petal. The benefits of artichoke may also be enjoyed in the form of a liquid extract, enabling you to drink your “artichoke a day”.
1. California Artichoke Advisory Board; www.artichokes.org.
2. Xianli Wu, et al., Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States, ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2004, 52, 4026-4037.
3. E. Speroni, et al., Efficacy of different Cynara scolymus preparations on liver complaints, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 86, 2003, 203-211.
For more info, call Lana Nickerson at 775-686-6065.