What we all know with the common name of artichoke, in the botanical field is called "cynara carduncus scolymus". It is a plant that is part of the large Composite family, of which it is one of the most widely used plants both in the kitchen and in the herbalist / phytotherapeutic field because of the extraordinary properties it enjoys. Similarly to asparagus - vegetables with similar properties and equal use in the culinary field - the artichoke requires great patience on the part of those who intend to cultivate it; this is because the cultivation times are extremely long and even ten years can elapse between sowing, growing, maturing and harvesting. This is a problem especially for small crops: the large artichoke cultivations, in fact, enjoy a constant exchange of plants and in the meantime can afford to wait years; those who cultivate small plots of land have no convenience in mortgaging this plant. The artichoke has the appearance of a multiple rhizome plant: its shape resembles that of a small compact bush, characterized by rather hard dark green leaves, which stands straight on a thick stem and enriched by a few leaves here and there. In the kitchen the inflorescences of the artichoke are used, jealously guarded inside the head that therefore will have to be cleaned and cleaned eliminating leaves and stem. This plant prefers a temperate climate; it tolerates the heat but absolutely does not tolerate the cold, so that when the temperature drops below zero its development stops, and in general every period of excessive cold conditions in some way its growth. While preferring clayey soils rich in silica, the artichoke grows well on all types of soil; in Italy it is among the most widespread vegetables on the table and is grown mainly in Lazio, Sicily, Sardinia and Liguria.
The beneficial properties of the artichoke
The artichoke enjoys remarkable properties that make it one of the most precious foods of the Mediterranean diet, which uses this vegetable in a thousand different ways, alone or, more often, accompanied by cereals, eggs and various seasonings. What has been known since ancient times (and later confirmed by science) is that the artichoke enjoys remarkable depurative properties that make it a particularly recommended food when suffering from stomach pains or when suffering from intestinal viruses. But the artichoke can be considered in all respects a medicinal plant above all the virtue of the beneficial effect exerted on the liver, the organ that benefits most from its detoxifying action. Who has a healthy liver benefits from taking the artichoke as this prevents the most common pathologies and stimulates the natural defenses, however to benefit from this vegetable are also those who suffer from liver disorders such as liver cirrhosis, jaundice and dyspepsia, ie digestion difficulties. The artichoke also benefits from those suffering from less serious but equally annoying disorders such as meteorism, aerophagia, repetitive abdominal pain and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). The artichoke protects the liver and is therefore called "hepatoprotector" and also "ancofoleretico" since it supports the organism in the production of bile and also favors its elimination. Excellent digestive, the artichoke is often used in the preparation of liqueurs called digestive, ideal to be consumed after a meal.
The active ingredients of the artichoke
The artichoke fulfills its function as a hepatoprotector thanks to the massive presence of cynarin, a polyphenol that derives from caffeic acid and which is also responsible for the slightly bitter taste of this vegetable. In addition to preserving the proper functioning of the liver, the cynarin lowers cholesterol levels in the blood. Being a food with a very low content of calories (one hundred grams of artichoke heart contain about twenty-two calories) makes the artichoke particularly suitable for low-calorie diets, which also benefit from the remarkable vitamin and nutritional intake. The artichoke is in fact a vegetable rich in mineral salts - above all iron, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, which are essential for the body because they are involved in the processes of tissue formation, metabolism, the transfer of nerve impulses and communication between enzymes. Inulin, then, is an active ingredient also contained in massive quantities in the artichoke: this fiber significantly reduces the concentration of triglycerides in the blood, limiting the blood sugar level. Other active ingredients of this vegetable are flavonoids, polyphenols typical of plants that have a powerful antioxidant action.
Uses of the artichoke
The artichoke can be eaten both raw and cooked; in the first case it is often associated with other vegetables in the famous pinzimonio. Cooking does not alter its extraordinary qualities, therefore this vegetable can be consumed in all the ways that fantasy suggests, combined with any kind of seasoning; however, if you want to take full advantage of its medicinal properties, you can buy special gelatinous capsules containing the concentrated active ingredient (found in all pharmacies and in herbal medicine) or, if you prefer, drops of dry extract titrated. With the artichoke leaves are also prepared excellent decoctions and purifying herbal teas.
The artichoke is a very safe plant. The most serious contraindication could be a form of allergy towards the active ingredient contained in the plant, which is why its use should be immediately suspended. Women who are breastfeeding should limit the consumption of artichokes because they can hinder the secretion of breast milk. Even those suffering from gallstones must use great caution as a large consumption of artichokes could cause colic of a certain entity.