The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is also known as the Globe Artichoke, but shouldn’t be confused with the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) or the Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis).
This Mediterranean native is an edible flower variety of the thistle species within the Asteraceae family, which includes composite flowers such as sunflowers. Prior to cultivation, the ancestor and wild, natural occurring variety of the artichoke, the cardoon, was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. Around the 9th century the cultivation of what we think of as today’s artichoke, began in Naples. By the 19th century the artichoke had made its way to the USA.
Benefits of Artichokes
The artichoke is grown today for both its food capabilities and as an attractive plant variety for flower beds and yards. If enjoying the food aspect of the artichoke there are many health benefits to be gleaned from this tasty bloom. 1 medium artichoke (120g), after cooking, offers 64 calories, 0 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, and 14 grams of carbohydrates (10g of which is dietary fiber). These edible flowers are an excellent source of Vitamins K-1 and B-9 (folate). They are also a good source of Vitamin C and the minerals magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Artichokes also contain cynarin, a hydroxycinnamic acid and a biologically active chemical constituent that inhibits taste receptors, making foods seem sweet. Cynarin has the ability to lower cholesterol, improve digestive health (including IBS and dyspepsia), and boost liver function. Artichokes also contain flavonoids such as silymarin, which improve liver health and function, and rutin, quercetin, and gallic acid, all which induce apoptosis and reduce the growth and progression of certain cancer cells.
This perennial can be grown up into plant hardiness zone 5, although it may not grow as tall as it would in warmer areas and may not overwinter as well, acting much like an annual. While artichokes may not grow to full capacity in chillier climes, they do require enough chilling temperatures through the winter in order to produce flowers. With a warmer and longer growing season the artichoke plant can reach heights of 3-6’, developing edible buds/heads that are 3-6” in diameter with many triangular shaped, purplish florets. The edible portion of the bud is the fleshy lower area of the involucral bracts and the base. This is known as the heart. The immature florets in the center of the bud are older, inedible, and referred to as the choke.
To grow this majestic flower, plant seedlings in full sun to partial shade after the last frost date in your area has passed. However, don’t plant too late as extreme heat conditions during flower stalk formation will cause the plant not to flower. Sow your artichokes 4’ apart, unless in colder climates, then plantings can be 2-3’ apart since shorter growing time will limit plant size. Fertile, well-drained soil that isn’t compact or dense is ideal. To achieve a good planting soil, it’s best to work compost into the soil to create a growing area that has the proper soil density, water holding capacity, and mineral composition. As artichokes grow, water consistently with 1-2” per week. Since artichokes have shallow root systems, they are not heat or drought tolerant. They prefer moist soils, but cannot endure being waterlogged. The top reasons for growth failure and onset of root rot in artichokes are summer drought and waterlogged winter soils. Keeping the water at a consistent level will reduce stress and therefore reduce rot. Aphids can also stress plant, leading to rot root. They can also cause physical damage, especially to young plants and spread disease as well. Playing host to ladybugs, praying mantis, and other predatory insects and spiders is an effective and natural way to control aphid populations.
Artichokes will be ready to harvest in late summer and into the fall, until frost sets in. Harvest the buds when they reach full size but before the bracts begin opening. Using a sharp knife, cut the bud and 2-3” of the stem from the plant. Even as harvesting begins and continues, be sure to keep watering plants to continue bud development and because even those buds not harvested will produce purple colored blooms and make nice ornamentals in the garden.
After you harvest a nice crop of artichokes it’s time to enjoy them. Artichokes can be trimmed down to the hearts to be used in a variety of recipes, including spinach and artichoke dip. However, do understand that in order to get the equivalent of a 14-16oz can or jar of hearts you see in the store, it will take 10-15 artichokes to produce that same amount. If this is a task you want to take on, the process is as follows:
Making Artichoke Hearts from Fresh Artichokes
Pull off and discard the darker green small leaves from the base of the artichoke, until only pale yellow inner leaves are left
Cut the stem and base off
Cut off the top 1/3 of the artichoke and discard
Quarter the remaining 2/3 and scoop out the choke
What is left is the Artichoke Heart
Place the heart in a bowl of water with lemon to keep it from browning until ready to use
If you would like to use leaves of a fresh artichoke the recipe below is a simple and delicious one.
Butter or Olive Oil for dipping
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
Trim the thorny leaves from the artichoke
Cut off the stems at the base
Cut off the top 1” of artichoke
Place approximately 1” of water and substantial pinch of salt into a large wide pan
Bring the water to a boil
Place prepared artichokes in boiling water
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low
Simmer for 25 minutes or until leaves pull off easily
Remove from the pan and pat dry
Serve immediately with melted butter or olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper
To eat, dip each leaf in oil or butter and use your front teeth to scrape the flesh/heart into your mouth
This makes a great appetizer to share with others!
Work of Art-ichoke
Artichokes are delicious, nutritious, and a unique growing experience. Whether you grow the flowers to eat or enjoy visually, they are a wonderful plant to sow. They will stand out in both a well-arranged vase or beautifully crafted culinary dish. They add color and distinctiveness to all they are a part of and are a true work of gardening art!
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Drost, D. June 2010. Utah State University Cooperative Extension. Artichoke in the Garden. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1239&context=extension_curall
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MyPlate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate
Newworldencyclopedia.org. October 16, 2008. New World Encyclopedia. Artichoke. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Artichoke
PubCHem. NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Compound Summary for CID 5281769. Cynarin. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Cynarin#section=Top