Artichokes are a versatile food, and although some would consider them a vegetable, they are actually a variety of thistle. For nutritional purposes, they are primarily consumed due to their associated benefits of protecting against various forms of cancer, bolstering the immune system strength, lowering cholesterol, and protecting against diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Artichokes have also long been famous for detoxifying the body and improving the health of the liver and aiding in digestive issues like indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diarrhea. Furthermore, these miraculous little thistles can reduce blood pressure, eliminate hangovers, and stimulate urination.
Artichokes are known in their natural form as cardoon, and their scientific classification is Cynara cardunculus. They are a native to the Mediterranean region, which is primarily why they play such a major part in their cuisine. Artichokes can be found throughout Europe, the Middle Eastern countries, and America, but they are less frequently encountered in Asian nations.
The edible part of an artichoke is the bud within the flower head before it fully blooms. Timing is key in cultivating them, as they turn hard and nearly inedible once the flower has fully bloomed. Also, one of the most sought-after parts of the thistle is the “heart”, which is the base from which the other buds spring. It is often considered a delicacy or at least the most delicious part of the plant and is generally more expensive.
Artichokes have the highest antioxidant levels out of all vegetables, according to a study done by the USDA, and out of 1,000 plants of different types of foods, they ranked 7th in antioxidant content. Antioxidants are one of the primary means of defense for the immune system against the effects of free radicals, which are natural byproducts of cell metabolism that can lead to a number of dangerous conditions and diseases in the body. The antioxidant properties of artichokes come from a number of sources, one of which are polyphenols, which are found in high numbers in them. Polyphenols have chemopreventive qualities, which means they can slow down, stop, or completely reverse the effects of cancer in any patient. Their antioxidant ability comes from another source as well, their high levels of quercetin and rutin, two specific antioxidants that have been proven to reduce the chances of developing cancer.
Vitamin C is also a well-known antioxidant and it is found in significant levels in artichokes. Vitamin C has been shown to actively discourage conditions like mucositis and fibrosis, and also to reduce the chances of breast cancer. Finally, other studies have shown that the extract from artichoke leaves can be used to induce cell apoptosis (cell death) as well as cell proliferation when injected in cancerous masses, and can reduce the chances for and effects of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia. The flavonoids in them have been found to reduce chances of breast cancer as well.