Originating from the Mediterranean region, Artichokes or Cynara Scolymus were known to the ancient Romans. The first record of the modern form of artichoke, having a flower head with an edible fleshy basal structure came from Naples around the year 1400 or a little later. From Italy it was introduced into England and France and then brought into the colonies and the Americas
The origin of the word artichoke is most likely from the Arabic 'al-khurshuf' also meaning thistle, which became articiocco in Italian, and ultimately artichoke.
As the origin of the name indicates, artichoke is a member of the thistle family and can be grown as a perennial or annual crop. The artichoke itself is the flower bud of a thistle-like plant. In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about six feet in diameter and reaches a height of three to four feet. If allowed to grow artichoke buds develop into magnificent purple flowers that will keep for months when dried.
Artichoke's Medicinal Properties and Healing Benefits
In countries of the Mediterranean, artichoke is used as bile stimulant and a diuretic. It is also considered an ideal breath freshener. Artichokes are often used by Naturopaths for the treatment of liver diseases because of the active ingredients found in its leaves called cynarin (caffeoylquinic acids). These compounds are known to promote the flow of bile and fat to and from the liver, and are effective in the treatment of hepatitis. In ancient cultures such as the Turkish, artichoke concoctions are also used as blood cleansers and for detoxing the liver .
As a traditional medicine, artichoke has been used primarily for enhancing liver function but is also known to improve digestion, and help lower high LDL cholesterol levels. Considered as one of the oldest medicinal plants it was used as a remedy by Ancient Greeks and Romans primarily as a digestive aid. The first clinical research studies regarding artichoke leaf extract and its relation to liver conditions were conducted in the 1930's with encouraging results.
Numerous other studies have shown that there are also many other health benefits associated with artichoke leaf extracts. Such studies have already proven artichoke's hepato-protective effects. Artichoke leaf extract protects the liver from the damaging effects of toxins similar to the effect of Milk Thistle. Like the latter, artichoke leaf extract stimulates liver tissue regeneration.
The beneficial health effects of artichoke leaf extract are due to the promotion of bile flow in the body. The increased bile flow promotes the digestion of fat and contributes to the protection of intestinal mucosa, which is sensitive to acids since the bile fluid contains a considerable amount of bicarbonate.
As the human body consumes toxins in many different forms through food, water, and the air we breathe, these toxins constantly bombard the liver. Bile serves as a carrier, moving these toxins from the liver on to the intestine for further elimination.
An excellent source of vitamin C (15 mg in each medium size artichoke) and folate, the artichoke is also rich in fiber and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Artichokes are also fat-free, saturated fat-free, low in sodium, cholesterol-free and considered to be a 'dieter's delight'
PS: The benefits cited in this article are those of the globe Artichoke, not to be confused with the Jerusalem artichoke (which is a species of sunflower).
In summary the benefits of the Globe Artichoke are
- Fibre rich
- Digestion booster
- Liver booster
- Bile stimulant
- Fat free
- Vitamic C, folate and magnesium rich
Steamed Artichokes recipe
Slice about 3/4 inch to an inch off the stem of the artichoke. Pull out any smaller leaves towards the base and on the stem. Rinse the artichokes in running cold water.
In a large pot, put a couple inches of water, a slice of lemon, and a bay leaf (this adds wonderful flavor to the artichokes). Add the artichokes and cover. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 25 to 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off.
Note: Cooking time depends on the artichoke size. The larger, the longer cooking time it requires.
Dip: A nice dipping sauce to accompany artichokes is a lemon, olive oil, salt and a touch of fresh garlic (if desired) dip.
Squeeze the juice of 1 large lemon (or 2 small ones), mix with 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil, add salt and a crushed half of a garlic clove (to taste). Mix well and dip your cooked artichoke leaves inside.
The liver cleansing benefits of lemon will enhance those of the artichoke.