Admiring Artichokes

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus scolymus) is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. It belongs to the same species as cardoons. Both belong to the Asteraceae family, along with the herbs arnica, burdock, boneset, calendula, chamomile, cronewort (mugwort), coltsfoot, dandelion, echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, gravel root, grindelia, liferoot, milk thistle, tansy, yarrow, valerian, wormwood, and wild lettuce. The family also contains the foods sunflower seedslettuce, endive, and sun chokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes). And it contains the decorative flowers asters, chrysanthemums, dahlias, bachelor’s buttons, daisies, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrods, sunflowers, and zinnias.

The edible part of artichokes are the buds that form within the flower heads before the flowers come into bloom. The buds transform into a coarse, barely edible form when the flower blooms.

The uncultivated or wild variety of the species is called a cardoon. It is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region.

Artichokes date back to at least the third century B.C. in Italy and Sicily. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. Ancient Greeks ate artichokes to ensure the birth of boys. Wealthy Romans enjoyed artichokes prepared in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin, year round.

After Rome fell, artichokes became scarce. Beginning about 800 A.D., North African Moors grew artichokes near Granada, Spain, and the Arab Saracens grew artichokes in Sicily. Between 800 and 1500, the artichoke was improved into the plant it is today. In 1466, the Strozzi family brought artichokes from Florence to Naples. In the mid 16th century, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), married King Henry II (1519-1559), of France at the age of 14, and introduced artichokes to France. 

Martha Washington had a 17th-century recipe for “Hartichoak Pie.” French immigrants brought artichokes to the Louisiana in 1806.

In 1922, in Monterey County, California, Italian farmers began growing artichokes on land previously used to grow sugar beets, because artichokes were fetching higher prices than beets. Ciro “Whitey” Terranova, a member of the mafia and known as the “Artichoke King,” began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California and resold them at a profit. The ensuing “artichoke wars” led the Mayor or New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare artichokes illegal in New York, a ban he lifted after only one week because of his own love of the vegetable.

Artichokes are low in calories and fat, and are a rich source of fiber. Artichokes can:

  1. Control your cholesterol. Artichokes provide 5.4 grams of fiber per 100 grams, or about 14% of Daily Value (DV). One large artichoke contains a quarter of the recommended daily intake of fiber, and a medium artichoke has more fiber than a cup of prunes. Fiber helps decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels by binding to it in the intestines. It also helps prevent colon cancer risks by preventing toxic compounds in food from being absorbed into your blood. Artichokes also contain bitter phytochemicals, cynarin (a polyphenol antioxidant in the leaf pulp) and sesquiterpene-lactones. These compounds inhibit cholesterol synthesis by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase and increase cholesterol excretion in your bile and thus raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood.
  2. Fight cancer. Artichoke leaf extract kills cancer cells and reduces their proliferation in many different forms of cancer, including prostate cancer, leukemia, and breast cancer. The flavanoids present in artichokes reduce the risk of breast cancer. They are also a good source of antioxidants such as quercertin, rutin, anthocyanins, cynarin, luteolin, silymarin, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid, which help protect your body from harmful free radicals. Caffeic acid is highly protective in your body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes. Additionally, artichokes contain small amounts of antioxidant flavonoid compounds like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The total antioxidant strength (ORAC value) of artichokes is 6552 µmol TE/100 g.
  3. Promote healthy organs. Artichokes have been used for centuries in folk medicine as a liver protectant and to stimulate bile flow (choleresis), and is the best-studied herbal choleretic agent. Artichoke contains several antioxidants that can protect against oxidative liver damage, as well as caffeoylquinic acids, which stimulate bile flow. Cynarin and another antioxidant, silymarin, may regenerate liver tissue. Artichokes are a natural diuretic, they aid digestion, and improve gallbladder function. Many people swear by artichokes as a hangover treatment.

Fresh artichokes are an excellent source of folate: they provide about 68 micrograms per 100 grams (17% of DV). Fresh artichokes also contain good amounts of antioxidant vitamin C (about 20% of DV per 100 grams) and vitamin K (about 12% of DV). Artichokes are also rich in B-complex vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B6, thiamine, and pantothenic acid, which are essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions. Further, artichokes are a rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesiummanganese and phosphorus.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Artichoke




copper 0.231 mg 27%
vitamin C 11.7 mg 20%
folate 68 µg 17%
iron 1.28 mg 16%
magnesium 60 mg 15%
fiber 5.4 g 14%
phosphorus 90 mg 13%
vitamin K 14.8 µg 12%
manganese 0.256 mg 11%
vitamin B6 0.116 mg 9%
potassium 370 mg 8%
carbohydrates 10.51 g 8%
pantothenic acid 0.338 mg 7%
niacin 1.046 mg 6.5%
sodium 94 mg 6%
protein 3.27 g 6%
thiamine 0.072 mg 6%
riboflavin 0.066 mg 5%
zinc 0.49 mg 4.5%
calcium 44 mg 4%
Calories 47 2%
vitamin E 0.19 mg 1%
vitamin A 13 IU 0.5%
fat 0.15 g 0.5%
selenium 0.2 µg 0.3%
cholesterol 0 mg 0%

Fresh artichokes are available year round, although they are at their best in the spring. Artichokes are a popular winter season vegetables in Europe.

In the store, choose fresh artichokes that feel heavy for their size and without any cuts or bruise. The leaves should lie tightly together, and should be dark green and squeak slightly when squeezed. Avoid very large, tough artichokes.

Artichokes are best used while they are fresh. However, they can keep well if stored inside the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a week.

Wash artichokes under cold, running water. Trim away the stem leaving about 1 inch from the base. Remove the lower layers of leaves as they do not contain any flesh. Using a stainless steel knife or, cut off about 1/2 inch of the pointed top of the artichoke. Trim the tips of the leaves with stainless steel scissors to remove thorns. Spread out the scales and then scrape off central choke. (Small or baby artichokes can be eaten completely without removing the inside spiny choke.) Dip the artichoke in lemon juice or rub a lemon slice over cut portion to prevent it from turning brown. Always use a stainless-steel knife and a stainless-steel or glass pot, because iron or aluminum will turn artichokes an unappetizing blue or black. For the same reason, never let aluminum foil come in contact with artichokes. Place the prepared artichoke upside-down on a rack above 1- to 2-inches of boiling water. Cover and steam approximately 25 to 45 minutes, depending on size, or until a petal near the center pulls out easily.

To eat artichokes, take off individual leaf at a time, dip in your favorite sauce, and scrape off the fleshy base with your teeth. The center of leaf near its attachment to the heart holds more flesh that is edible. Then enjoy the delicious heart. You can also eat the stem, which tastes like the heart. Be sure to provide a plate to pile discarded leaves and finger bowl to wash hands for guests.

Enjoy artichokes mixed (or stuffed) with other vegetables or legumes, or enjoy cooled artichoke hearts on salads.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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