March 16th is National Artichoke Day.

The globe artichoke, also known by the names French artichoke and green artichoke in the U.S., is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as food. Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins.

Their scientific name is Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus and is one of the oldest food items known to humans. A single plant can produce over 20 artichokes per year. Native to the western and central Mediterranean and North Africa, the artichoke was domesticated and carried to the eastern Mediterranean in ancient times, though it was then valued for its young leaves rather than the immature flower heads. The edible flower form was first recorded in Italy in about 1400, and today it is extensively cultivated in Mediterranean countries, the Americas, and other regions with the necessary rich soil and mild climate.

The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Philippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the northwest … Artichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principal towns they spread into the hinterlands … appearing as carchofas at Cavaillon in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo … They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg … and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup.

Le Roy Ladurie, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc (1966)

Artichoke plants feature a rosette of deeply toothed large silvery leaves that grow up to three feet long and that die each year after flowers are formed. The plants produce sturdy branched flower stalks with about three to five large flower buds. If left unharvested, the artichoke buds open into thistlelike compound flower heads with numerous small purple disk flowers.

In a cooked artichoke, the tiny immature flowers are the inedible “fuzz” that covers the artichoke heart. Artichokes can be produced from seeds or from vegetative means such as division, root cuttings, or micropropagation.

Although technically perennials that normally produce the edible flower during only the second and subsequent years, certain varieties of artichokes can be grown from seed as annuals, producing a limited harvest at the end of the first growing season, even in regions where the plants are not normally winter-hardy.

Nearly all artichokes grown commercially in the U.S. are grown in California. Production actually happens year-round, but peak harvest season occurs between March and May and a smaller one in October. Harvest takes place between 5 and 6 months after planting.

Castroville is the home to the artichoke festival and calls itself the artichoke center of the world. For the best quality artichokes, they must be grown in frost-free areas with cool & foggy summers. 6,800 acres of artichoke farmland was harvested in the year 2016.

Artichokes are immature flowers. If left to mature, they will blossom into bright purple flowers. There are 50 varieties of artichokes grown worldwide. Green Globe is the predominant variety in California. It is the official vegetable of Monterey County in California (MCC). Marilyn Monroe, who was still going by her given name Norma Jeane Mortenson, was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen in 1947.

Antioxidants protect against a huge range of health conditions by helping your body get rid of the toxic byproducts of processing oxygen. Artichokes are a potent source of antioxidants, meaning they could play an active role against heart disease, some cancers. lung disease, and age-related eye disease.

Artichoke leaf extract plays a role in keeping cholesterol low – essential for your heart and your health in general. Better still, evidence suggests that the extract can balance the ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and the ‘bad’ (LDL) type. Studies on animals and test tube-bound cells suggest that artichokes might help keep your blood pressure steady. We know they’re a solid source of potassium, which regulates the blood. Some research also hints that leaf extract helps your body produce eNOS, an enzyme that keeps blood vessels wide enough to facilitate a healthy flow of blood.

Recent studies indicate that artichoke leaf extract might be good for helping your liver function. It helps repair the damage done to the liver, speeding up the rate at which tissue grows back. It also increases the rate at which you produce bile, helping flush toxins out of the liver. Because they’re so rich in fiber, artichokes help keep things moving along nicely as far as your digestion is concerned. In particular, a type of fiber called inulin is present in artichokes. This is especially good for promoting healthy digestion.

One of the tastiest & most fun ways to enjoy artichokes is to boil them with water, a lot of olive oil, and salt until they become tender. Be sure to chop off the top half as that part of the leaves isn’t for eating. Then peel, leaf by leaf as you eat, scraping the edible flesh off with your teeth, until you get to the heart (when you get to the prickly parts, just remove them & the heart is right under them). Try it with the kids & they just might eat all their veggies!

Artichoke Facts

Raw and fresh artichoke is an excellent source of natural folic acid

Fresh artichokes contain moderate amounts of Vitamin C

Artichokes are an excellent source of Vitamin K

An artichoke is an excellent source of compounds like
silymarin, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid

Artichoke is a rich source of minerals like copper, calcium,
potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

In Vietnam, artichoke leaves are ground up and made into tea

The most popular Greek recipe made using artichokes is called
“Aginares a la polita[1]

Artichokes can be grilled, braised, or baked. Two of the most common (also quickest and easiest) ways to prepare an artichoke, however, are steaming and boiling. In either case, you’ll need to prepare it for cooking. The artichoke’s flavor is delicate and nutlike, and the smaller heads, or buds, are usually the most tender. Artichoke heads are served as a hot vegetable with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer.

  • Use a sharp pair of scissors to snip the thorny tips off the outer leaves
  • Cut off the tip of the artichoke (about an inch down) using a sharp knife
  • Pull off the small, looser leaves around the base and stem
  • Slice off any excess stem so you’ve only got about an inch sticking out of the artichoke’s base
  • Rinse your artichoke, making sure the water gets in between the leaves

  1. Greek Artichoke And Vegetables Stew is made with potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, Spring garlic (or garlic clove instead), Spring onions, and red onion. All coated in a thick egg-lemon sauce. This stew is one of the best ways to cook artichokes and is a must-make dish during Spring. Especially if you can find fresh vegetables like artichokes, Spring onions, and Spring garlic. These ingredients when they’re in season, add such a nice freshness and fragrance to your food. Without this meaning that this stew isn’t as good-tasting in the middle of winter, with frozen artichokes and good old classic garlic cloves. It simply alters its profile from a fresh and light stew to a cozier one. [Back]

Further Reading


Facts Just For Kids
Daily Harvest Express
Just Fun Facts
Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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