Cynara scolymus – The globe artichoke

With their high content of bitter compounds, the leaves and roots of the artichoke have found a special place in natural medicine. In 2003, the artichoke was crowned herbal remedy of the year.

© DHU

It is not only now that artichokes are enjoying such a good reputation – they were also highly regarded by the ancient Romans and Greeks, who appreciated artichokes as a digestive aid in addition to savouring their taste. The Greek physician, Dioskorides (who wrote a book around the time of Christ’s birth that was regarded for many centuries as a materia medica), recommended the application of the pureed roots to the armpits or other parts of the body to counteract unpleasant odours. After the plant was imported from Sicily by the Neapolitan trader, Filippo Strozzi, at the start of the 15th century, it extended its triumphal march through France and Great Britain. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was such an ardent fan of the artichoke as an aphrodisiac that his partner and later wife, Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816), planted the vegetable herself in their garden in Weimar.

Today, the artichoke is mainly cultivated in Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Morocco, where the climate is mild, and it can flourish in loamy soil. Like the milk thistle, the artichoke belongs to the composite family. It produces a multitude of flowers which are densely arranged to form a head, surrounded by an involucre of bracts. It can grow to two metres in height and has large, purple inflorescences. The artichoke is a perennial herbaceous plant with a pronounced rhizome from which the basal leaves and stem grow. The leaves are green with few hairs on the upper side, but white with an abundance of hairs on the underside.

The phyllary bases and receptacle are eaten as a vegetable. The artichoke is low in calories and rich in dietary fibre, and the edible bud has a high content of vitamins B, E, and pro-vitamin A, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. A large artichoke contains 10 times our daily requirement of the listed minerals. Further constituents include flavonoids, monosaccharides, proteins, cynarin, chlorogenic acid and essential oils. In pharmacology, the leaves and roots are used for their high content of bitter compounds: active substances that stimulate the production and flow of bile and thus help to digest fat. Extracts of artichoke are used above all to treat digestive complaints in the form of bloating, loss of appetite, flatulence or nausea and vomiting. In addition, they have positive effects on the blood lipid levels. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels are reduced and the ratio of “good” (HDL) to “bad” (LDL) cholesterol is improved.