This plant is one of the most popular edible crops in the Mediterranean region, known since ancient times for its health benefits and important medicinal properties.
Botanically speaking, it belongs to the Asteraceae family and Cynara gender.
The scientific name is Cynara scolymus and is cultivated mainly for its inflorescence’s fleshy scales, but also for its edible floral receptacles.
It is used in gastronomy (the flower’s bulb) and its leaves are used therapeutically.
The latter have a bitter taste and are harvested 3-4 times a year, after ripening, since the first year, between June and September.
Nutrition fact of artichoke
This plant leaves contain polyphenols (cynarin and other chlorogenic products), flavonoids, a bitter principle, other compounds (taraxasterol, pseudo-Taraxasterol, stigmasterol, and beta-Stigmasterol), potassium, provitamin A and many enzymes.
It is a vegetable rich in the dietary fiber. For instance, a single boiled Cynara scolymus contains about 10g of dietary fiber.
Health benefits and uses of artichoke
- It provides significant amounts of fiber. One medium plant contains about 10 grams of fiber, representing around 25% of the recommended daily amount for adults. The same amount of broccoli or apples provides only 3-4 grams of fiber.
- It stabilizes blood sugar levels. A sufficient amount of fiber substitutes the body’s need for carbohydrates, so this plant has a low glycemic index. It also effectively controls the appetite, by 3-4 grams of protein and less than one gram of fat.
- It provides a significant contribution of antioxidants. An American study found that this plant contains more antioxidants than any other vegetable, ranking it seventh in a list of 1,000 different foods that protect body cells. The antioxidants found, include quercetin, anthocyanins, cynarin, luteolin or silymarin.
- It prevents and treats cancer. Some studies conducted on a special extract of Cynara scolymus leaves have discovered that the plant inhibits apoptosis (cells’ death) and reduces cancer cell proliferation in several forms of the disease, including prostate cancer, leukemia or breast cancer.
- It treats chronic digestive conditions, like gastric dyspepsia, with stomach pains and burns, bloating and nausea symptoms.
- It improves the bile’s activity. Its pulp contains an antioxidant called cynarin, part of the polyphenol family, which strongly stimulates the functioning of the bile.
- It protects the liver. Due to cynarin and silymarin, it is beneficial for the liver’s proper functioning. Studies have shown that this green vegetable helps regenerate the hepatic tissue. Moreover, the plant has been used for a long time in alternative medicine as a remedy for liver disorders.
- It improves unpleasant symptoms following alcohol consumption. Thanks to the positive effects on liver cells, the artichoke can quickly treat a hangover.
- It lowers cholesterol levels. The cyanic properties of the plant help the body remove LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and assist the adjusting of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). This action has positive consequences on the cardiac system’s functionality as well, as it is directly influenced by cholesterol levels in the body.
- It prevents hypertension. It contains a significant amount of potassium, a mineral that the body needs to function optimally. Its potassium content reduces the excess amount of sodium in the body, protecting the cardiovascular system.
- It protects the fetus during pregnancy. Fresh artichoke is a rich source of folic acid (supplying about 68 units per 100 grams, namely 17% of the recommended daily dose). Folic acid is a cofactor of the enzymes involved in DNA synthesis. Studies have shown that adequate levels of folic acid during preconception, especially in early pregnancy, help prevent neural tube defects in newborns.
- It improves the immune system. Fresh artichoke bulbs are rich sources of vitamin C (in a proportion of 20% of the daily recommended dose, for every 100 grams). Regular consumption of foods that provide vitamin C helps the body develop an increased resistance to infectious agents and free radicals that attack the body’s healthy cells.
- It protects the skeletal system. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K (100 grams provide 12% of the necessary daily amount). This vitamin plays a crucial role in bone health, stimulating the development of the skeletal system. In addition, an optimum amount of vitamin K in the diet helps stop neural degeneration and is especially beneficial for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
- It ensures proper conditions to optimize the metabolism. Rich in B vitamins (such as niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin and pantothenic acid), cynara scolymus supports the activity of metabolic processes in the body.
- It prevents and treats anemia. It is a plant that provides two other important minerals: iron and copper. The latter is required in the production of red blood cells, while iron participates in the formation of red blood cells.
- It treats halitosis. In alternative medicine, the artichoke is also used to treat halitosis (bad breath).
- It stimulates the activity of hepatocytes, thus helping the body remove its toxins. The body also benefits from the artichoke treatment in cases of acute and chronic hepatitis, various forms of cirrhosis (alcoholic or viral etiology) and chronic cholecystitis.
- Scientific studies have shown that this plant helps balance blood sugar levels and can be a great adjuvant for diabetics.
- Treatment of chronic hepatitis, acute and chronic cholecystitis, angiocolitis, constipation, hemorrhoids, atherosclerosis, hypertension, vomiting: infusion of 2 teaspoons crushed dried herb and a cup (300ml) of boiling water. Leave it covered for 10-15 minutes. Drink in three innings before main meals. After 10 days, increase the dose to 4 teaspoons herb / 300 ml boiling water, then, after another 10 days, 5 teaspoons herb / 300 ml boiling water. Take a one-month break from the treatment, then continue it the same way, as indicated above.
- Treatment of hypertension, adjuvant in atherosclerosis, effective in lowering cholesterol levels: infusion of 1 tablespoon crushed dried herb and 1/2 l of boiling water. Leave it covered for 15-20 minutes and then decant. Drink it in the morning on an empty stomach and lie down on your right side for 30 minutes. The treatment applies again within the same day, with half an hour before main meals.
- Treatment of anorexia (lack of appetite): infusion of 1 teaspoon crushed plant and a cup (200ml) of boiling water. Leave it covered for 10-15 minutes and then decant. Drink half a cup before meals.
- Treatment of enterocolitis, gut fermentation, abdominal colic, constipation, hepatobiliary disease, adjuvant in hemorrhoids and hives: infusion of 1-2 teaspoons crushed dried herb and a cup of boiling water. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
- Treatment of biliary dyskinesia: infusion of 1 teaspoon crushed dried herb and 1/2 l of boiling water. Leave it covered for 20-25 minutes and then decant. Drink one cup in the morning, on an empty stomach and lie down on your right side for about 30 minutes; drink the second cup in two innings before main meals, for a period of 20-30 days.
Precautions and side effects of Cynara Scolymus
Do not use during the acute stage of renal and hepatobiliary diseases.
Do not use any based products from this plant to treat gallstones.
It is not recommended during the breastfeeding period because it reduces lactation.
Sesquiterpene lactones can cause allergic reactions, in which case of products that contain Cynara scolymus should be avoided.