The globe artichoke, or Cynara scolymus, is a perennial thistle and is known as one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. Most likely, artichokes originated in the Mediterranean, although they have been seen in ancient Egyptian writings as grown in the Nile Valley. The Spanish eventually brought them to California in 1600, but they didn’t actually catch on with Americans until the 1920s. California provides nearly 100 percent of the artichoke crop in the United States, with Castroville, a town in the California Central Coast farm country, calling itself the “artichoke center of the world.” There are several varieties of artichokes such as Green Globe, Desert Globe, Big Heart, and Imperial Star, ranging in color from dark purple to pale green.
It grows 4.6 to 6.6 ft tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 20–32 in long. The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3.1–5.9 in diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions at the base, known as the “heart”
Studies have shown wonders from the extract called silymarin found in artichokes. This extract has been known to relieve stomach issues such as common pains, nausea and vomiting and to cleanse the liver. In many countries artichokes are also used to aid in indigestion and help those with chronic gastrointestinal issues.
NUTRITIONAL DATA – Artichokes are very low in calories (about 50-60 calories for a medium sized artichoke) and are a fat free food. They are great sources of natural fiber, folic acid, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin C. They also have many disease fighting antioxidants that can help to prevent a myriad of diseases including cancer.
High cholesterol is associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Artichokes and artichoke leaf extract reduce cholesterol levels. The efforts to study this idea date back all the way to the 1970s, when scientists began examining cynarin and cholesterol in their labs.
The high concentration of cynarin in artichokes not only affects cholesterol, but also can contribute to aiding in digestive health. Cynarin is known to stimulate the production of bile, which enables us to digest fats and absorb vitamins from our food, making artichokes an excellent way to start any meal.
Studies have shown that artichoke leaf extract can be very helpful for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia, or upset stomachs.
The boost in bile production you gain from eating artichokes can also be attributed to cynarin, which can be very beneficial to the health of your liver. The bile that the liver produces helps to remove dangerous toxins and digest fats. Artichokes also contain the flavonoid silymarin, a powerful liver protectant. Silymarin averts the process of lipid peroxidation from occurring in the cell membranes of the tissues of the liver, making the artichoke an ideal weapon in your arsenal to help you obtain optimal liver function. By providing a boost to the liver you’ll see improved cholesterol levels and the ability to better control blood sugar levels and your weight.
Lowering blood sugar
Your liver also stores extra glucose (sugar) in the form of glycogen and converts it to glucose when supplies diminish pass a minimum threshold. The overproduction of glucose by the liver can lead to diabetes and other health problems. More studies need to be done on this topic but scientists think that artichokes might someday help people with non insulin-dependent diabetes.
There are many other powerful polyphenol-type antioxidants found in artichokes that researchers believe can contribute to the prevention and management of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia. Studies have shown that the antioxidants rutin, quercetin, and gallic acid found in artichoke leaf extract are able to induce apoptosis (cell death) and reduce the proliferation of cancer cells.
High in Fibre
Artichokes’ high fiber content is also a bonus for your digestive tract. Insoluble fiber is nature’s laxative, absorbing water and creating bulk to move things along.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
Look for heavy artichokes with a soft green color and tightly packed, closed leaves. Avoid moldy or wilted leaves. Store artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator; add a few drops of water to prevent them from drying out. (Do not wash artichokes before storing them.) Although best if used within a few days, they’ll keep for a week or two if stored properly and handled gently.
PREPARATION AND SERVING TIPS
Wash artichokes under running water. Pull off outer, lower petals and trim the sharp tips off of the outer leaves. Boil, standing upright in the saucepan, for 20 to 40 minutes, or steam for 25 to 40 minutes or until a center petal pulls out easily. Artichokes are versatile. They can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold. Though they’re best served as appetizers, they are well suited for a variety of uses including dips and sauces.
Artichokes are wonderful for people trying to lose weight because the food keeps your mouth busy, giving your stomach more time to feel full. It is filling and is low in calories.