This wonderful vegetable has many detoxifying qualities; it has numerous benefits for the digestive system, provides a variety of beneficial nutrients and strengthens the immune system.
Artichokes are the immature flowers of the thistle plant, and are sometimes referred to as 'globe artichokes'. The leaves and flower buds are edible but the center isn't. Artichokes range in color from dark purple to pale green. The 'Jerusalem artichoke' is a nutritious tuber with a similar taste to the artichoke, but is not actually an artichoke- it is a member of the magnolia family.
Artichokes are a rich source of Vitamin C, folate, dietary fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Artichokes contain the phytochemical cynarin, which aids in digestion by stimulating bile production and gives artichoke its detoxifying qualities.
Artichokes contain the flavanoid silymarin, thought to support the liver by preventing the build-up of toxins in it, and reducing the risk of gallstones. Their high levels of B-vitamins are beneficial for boosting energy and mental alertness, and play an important role in strengthening the immune system.
Both varieties of artichoke (globe and Jerusalem) contain little starch, and instead are rich in a substance known as inulin. The body deals with this in the same way it copes with fiber, as it isn't broken down during normal digestion but ends up in the large bowel where probiotic bacteria ferment the inulin. This chemical has all the benefits of fiber, but unfortunately, it can also be the cause of excessive wind. Its fiber-rich content can also reduce symptoms associated with indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome, such as abdominal pain, nausea, constipation and diarrhea.
In rat models, researchers have found that wild artichoke restored veins and arteries that did not have sufficient flow in them.
Studies conducted on guinea pigs have found that chemicals in artichokes can stop disturbances in the GI tract. The chemicals halt the intestines from spastic movement. Human studies have also found that artichoke leaf extract can significantly reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia (pain in the mid-abdominal area).
Tips for Using Artichokes
- When selecting artichokes, pick ones that feel heavy, have tightly packed leaves, and are dark green in color.
- To prepare artichokes, trim the stems and remove any damaged outer leaves. Place them in a saucepan or steamer, and sprinkle over some salt and/or olive oil. Cover and simmer or steam for 20-40 minutes. They are cooked when the leaves pull away easily from the outside.
- To eat: only the soft ends of the leaves should be eaten, so pull off a leaf, dip the base end into a sauce of choice (melted butter, vinaigrette or mayonnaise are great), and scrape the pulp from the leaf between your teeth. When the leaves are eaten, you will be left with the base, or artichoke heart. Remove the top of the heart and discard. Slice the rest of it up, and eat it in the same way.
- Rossoni G, Grande S, Galli C, Visioli F. Wild artichoke prevents the age-associated of vasomotor function. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Dec 28; 53(26):10291-6.
- Emendorfer F, Emendorfer F, Bellato F, Noldin VF, Cechinel-Filho V, Yunes R, Delle Monache F,Cardozo A. Antispasmodic activity of fraction and cynaropicrin from Cynara scolymus on guinea-pig ileum. Bil Pharm Bull. 2005 May; 28(5): 902-4.
- Bundy R, Walker AF, Middleton RW, Marakis G, Booth J. Artichoke leaf extract reduces symptoms ofirritable bowel syndrome and improves quality of life in otherwise healthy volunteers suffering from concomitant dyspepsia: a subset analysis. J Altern Complemt Med. 2004 Aug; 10(4): 667-9.