Before we get into the countless health benefits of artichokes, let us learn a little more about this food. Who would think to eat a thistle flower covered with tough protective leaves that end at a sharp point? These were the artichokes eaten by the Greeks and Romans, the discoverers of this flower’s culinary and medicinal virtues.
It was the Arabs in the Middle Ages, however, who spread the artichoke to Western Europe. They improved the varieties, developing one with tender, fleshy bracts without the terminal spines. (the name artichoke goes back to an Arabic word, al-jarshuf. The Arabic word passed to Spanish. The Old Spanish word alcarchofa was modified and passed through a Northern Italian dialect as articiocco, which looks more like the English artichoke).
Some may be surprised that the artichoke is a flower or an inflorescence: a gathering of many tiny florets joined by a stalk. The edible portions of this flower are the receptacle (the heart of the artichoke) and the fleshy parts of the bracts (the protective leaves) surrounding the flower.
Artichoke Nutritional Facts
The artichoke is virtually fat-free, while its carbohydrate (5.11 percent) and protein (3.27 percent) content is significant. However, the most noteworthy aspect of its composition is a series of substances present in tiny quantities but have remarkable physiological effects. These are:
CYNARINE – This is 1.5-dicaffeoylquinic acid, which acts on the cells in the liver to increase bile production, and on the cells of the kidneys, increasing urine production.
CYNAROSIDE – This is a glycosidic flavonoid derived from luteolin with anti-inflammatory properties.
ORGANIC ACIDS – Malic, lactic, citric, glycolic, and glyceric, among others. Although their function is still not well understood, it is known that they potentiate the activity of cynarine and cynaroside.
STEROLS – Beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol: these substances are similar to cholesterol in their chemical structure but of vegetable origin. They have the interesting effect of limiting cholesterol absorption in the intestine.
OTHER VARIED SUBSTANCES, such as pectin, mucilage, and trace elements (particularly manganese), complete this surprising vegetable composition. Science still does not understand the physiological effect of many of them. However, the health benefits of artichokes cannot be attributed to any of its components in particular but rather to the total synergistic activity of all of them.
Health Benefits of Artichokes
The artichoke is a highly digestible and well-tolerated vegetable by healthy and ill alike. Its components make it a genuinely medicinal food, particularly indicated in the following cases:
LIVER DISORDERS – Cynarine, potentiated by the other components of the artichoke, produces an intense choleretic (increase in bile production) effect. Usually, the liver discharges approximately eight hundred ml of bile daily; however, eating one-half kilo of artichokes can increase that number to as much as (1.2 liters) 1200 ml.
The bile produced after eating artichokes is less concentrated and more fluid, decongesting the liver. This approach aids the detoxifying task of this organ in reducing the bile of many foreign and toxic elements flowing in the blood, together with medications, chemical substances, and additives.
The artichoke is truly a guardian of the liver. It is highly advised in cases of hepatitis (A and B), cirrhosis, fatty degeneration of the liver caused by alcohol, alcoholic hepatitis, intoxication because of medications, and any instance requiring the potentiating of the liver’s detoxifying functions.
GALLBLADDER DISORDERS – Cynarin also acts as a cholagogue (facilitates emptying the gallbladder) but with less intensity than its choleretic effect. Consequently, it is appropriate in biliary dyspepsia provoked by cholelithiasis (gallstones) or other liver dysfunctions. The unpleasant taste in the mouth and slow digestion linked with high-fat foods increase significantly after an artichoke treatment (eating one-half kilo of artichokes daily for three to four days).
KIDNEY DISORDERS – Cynarin and the substances accompanying it in the artichoke increase urine production, but, more importantly, urea in the urine. Urea is a highly poisonous substance constantly produced within the body because of the metabolism of proteins, and the kidneys must eliminate it. When these organs fail to stop urea properly because of infection, inflammation, or degeneration of renal tissue, the result is kidney failure and an increase in the level of urea in the blood.
Abundant artichoke consumption is recommended in any of these conditions since it increases the kidney’s urea elimination and detoxifies the body. Artichokes are also indicated in edema or oliguria (scanty urine production).
ELEVATED CHOLESTEROL – Artichokes reduce cholesterol’s tendency to deposit on arterial walls, which leads to the hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). It is an excellent food for all who suffer from high blood cholesterol levels and tend toward arteriosclerosis. They are highly recommended for those who have suffered a heart attack, usually due to arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries.
DIABETES – Cynarin and its accompanying substances gently reduce the level of glucose in the blood. Artichokes are also rich in inulin, a carbohydrate that people with diabetes easily absorb. Because of this, artichokes should be included in the diabetic diet.
SKIN DISORDERS – It is clinically proven that many cases of dermatitis, including eczema and allergic skin reactions, disappear or significantly improve when the liver’s detoxifying functions are working correctly. The abundant consumption of artichokes can have surprising results on chronic skin conditions.
Artichokes Scientific Facts
- Scientific name – Cynara scolymus L.
- Other names – Globe artichoke
- French – Artichaut.
- Spanish – Alcachofa, alcaucil.
- German – Artischocke.
- Description – The artichoke is the inflorescence of the artichoke thistle, a herbaceous plant of the botanical family Compositae, which can reach a height of two meters.
- Environment – The artichoke is cultivated in all of the temperate regions around the Mediterranean, its place of origin. It has also adapted to temperate, less humid areas of the Americas. The plant is susceptible to cold.
The Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii Miq.), native to Japan and China and recently cultivated in Europe, produces tubers rich in minerals and trace elements, particularly phosphorus and silicon. They are eaten boiled or roasted.
How to use and Prepare Artichoke
- RAW – Tender artichoke hearts may be used in salad, prepared with lemon and oil. They are delightful tasting, which is the best way to take full advantage of their vitamin and trace elements.
- ROASTED – Either on a grill or in the oven. In either case, the tips of the outer leaves should not be removed since they help maintain internal moisture during the cooking process.
- COOKED – Ideally, artichokes should be steamed. They are placed whole in a basket in a cooking pot. Cooking in this way retains most of its mineral salts and trace elements. If artichokes are boiled in water, the water should be saved for broths or soups.
How to cut Artichokes
- Get rid of two or three of the outer layers of leaves.
- Cut the stalk and the tips of the remaining leaves.
- To keep the artichokes from turning dark because of the oxidation of their mineral salts being exposed to the air, moisten them with lemon juice or rub them against the half lemon.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 178, 179, 180. Print.
Last update on 2023-10-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API