Artichoke – The Mediterranean Wonder
Artichoke, scientific name Cynara cardunculus, a plant noted for its bizarrely-shaped but beautiful violet-purple flowers and is commonly known as globe artichoke.
Found throughout Southern Europe, some parts of Africa and other places around the Mediterranean, the artichoke is also most notable for its many uses from being used as ingredients for various forms of food, tea, a form of liquor and some medicinal and folk cures. The flowers of the artichoke, which give it its name because of their round shape, is a popular form of food but once fully mature, the “heart” of the artichoke, the central mass of immature florets, becomes inedible.
History and Cultivation
Artichokes are thought to have come from Maghreb, somewhere in North Africa and they are still found scattered throughout the said northern continent as well as across the Mediterranean Sea, in Southern Europe. Many theorize that it once grew wildly around Egypt, specifically Mons Claudianus which became a place some import to the Roman Empire in later years. It was introduced into early Sicily perhaps before the arrival of the Greek era by Arab merchants who sought to sell the flower as a kind of exotic plant to decorate the palaces of kings and nobles as well as more privileged common citizens who could afford them. Later on, the Greeks, who saw the thorns on the globe artichoke and called it kaktos, similar to the actual prevalent cacti of the time. After the Greeks and their empire receded and were replaced by the Romans, who admired the beauty of the artichoke and called it Carduus. During this time, having realized the potential profit in selling the flowers to Europeans, Arabs in Maghreb began to cultivate the flower but records are quite scarce of their activities with the globe artichoke. It was only in the 9th century in Naples that the artichoke was cultivated by Europeans. Soon the globe artichoke became quite a popular sight in Florence and Venice in Italy as well as Cavillon and Chateauneuf du Pape in France. The Dutch, who were already knew quite a bit about the strange but beautiful flower soon introduced it to the British who, during their days of colonizing the New World, introduced the globe artichoke to the American continents.
The Artichoke in the Modern Age
The Artichoke is now found throughout most of the known world but it is most abundant in the places where it originated such as Southern Europe and North Africa. They are produced as seeds and are quite abundant in places where they are grown and cultivated. Major produces of the globe artichoke are Italy, Spain, Egypt, Peru, Argentina, China, Morocco, the United States, France, Chile and South Africa.
Uses of the Artichoke
The artichoke is also quite popular because of it many uses and has been used by many of the Ancient civilizations as a kind of folk medicine. Although back then, it can be assumed that the globe artichoke was chosen more for its strange but beautiful appearance rather than its actual medicinal properties but it nonetheless proved effective enough for modern medicine to accept it as an ingredient for some medications.
The artichoke is often a delicacy in some countries, especially prized for the pulpy “heart” of its flowers. The thorns are simply removed and the immature florets are ready for any kind of preparation or cooking that is required. For instance, in Italy, artichokes are commonly used for making pizza seasoning, in Spain, they are commonly used as an ingredient for paella and in the Middle East as well as North Africa, they are widely used in tandem with spices like pepper, mint, dilt, onion, tomato, raisins, parsely, green peas and many more.
Artichoke has found popular use as a diuretic in the Far East. In Vietnam, specifically in Da Lat region, artichoke has become a kind of health drink due to its diuretic properties and is thought to improve the condition of the liver by helping it clean the body of toxins.
Artichoke as Liquor
Artichoke is also quite noted for being a key ingredient in some cocktails made in Switzerland.
Artichoke as Medicine
Artichoke is also noted for its place among herbal remedies. Thanks to its accessibility now that it has been distributed throughout the world, the artichoke now ranks as one of the top home remedies of the world. This is because it contains many antitoxins that aid in neutralizing many harmful chemicals and compounds the body develops in day-to-day living. Also known for its diuretic effect, it also helps rid the body of excess cholesterol in the blood thanks to its chemical agents apigenin and luteolin. It also has some benefits for gut bacteria but its effects on said native flora remains to be explored. It also helps people with dyspepsia and aids in the function of the liver.
Rottenberg, A., and D. Zohary, 1996: The wild ancestry of the cultivated artichoke.