Artichoke is a perennial plant like the thistle with long stems ranging between one and two meters or three and six feet. Artichoke plants bear large leaves placed alternately on the stems and seldom have barbs. The upper surface of the barbs is usually grey-green in color, while they are white and woolly underneath. The plant blossoms from late spring to mid summer and bear flowers that are large and bulbous. The globular flower heads have thorny scales that are purple-green in color and also purple flowers bearing resemblance to the thistles.
The cultivation of artichokes dates back to over 2000 years ago when the Romans grew artichokes as green and salad plants. Hence, it is believed that the plant is indigenous to the vast area around the western and central Mediterranean in Europe and parts of North Africa. While the plant was introduced in England as late as in 1548, the French settlers in North America planted artichoke in Louisiana sometime around the middle of the 19th century. Currently, California in the USA is the hub of artichoke cultivation and the peak harvesting season of the plant extends from March to May.
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Interestingly, the artichoke plant owes its name to the northern Italian terms like 'articiocco' and 'articoclos' which when translated to English means pine cone. In fact, the buds of artichoke plants have close resemblance to pine cones. A type of vegetable found in Jerusalem is also known as Jerusalem artichoke. However, it has nothing to do with the artichoke plants and is basically tuberous in nature and belongs to the sunflower family. In fact, the original artichoke is a huge and strong plant. The artichoke plants bear elongated, bristly and spiky leaves that can develop up to three feet in length. And the artichoke plant itself can grow up to six feet in height.
Artichoke thrives best in cold, but not sub-zero weather. These plants prefer plenty of water, rains as well as fog and hence are best suited to the climes of California. Hence, it is little surprising that the California coast, particularly the San Francisco area, has developed as the hub of commercial cultivation of artichoke.
How do you distinguish a good quality artichoke from an inferior one? Well, here are some tips that will help you to get the right quality of the plant. If you are looking for the good quality artichoke, choose the one that is compacted, fleshy, and weighty as well as that gives way somewhat to pressure. At the same time, a good quality artichoke will have hefty, firmly hanging on, plump leaf scales that are brightly colored. On the other hand, you can easily identify an aged or wounded artichoke as it will be brown in color. Similarly, an over matured artichoke is one that is uncluttered or scattering and is wooly, dark pink or purple in color at the center. The tips and scales of an over matured artichoke are also very hard.
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Normally, people eat the fleshy portion of the artichoke leaves, its green and tender base and the core of the plant. While average sized artichoke plants are best for consumption, the larger artichoke plants are basically hard and tasteless. Artichokes may be served both hot or cold and they even make delectable salads.
Preparing artichokes is simple. In order to get artichokes ready, slash off the plant's stem and remove all toughened parts and damaged leaves. Next, clean the artichoke in running cold water and put it in boiling water. Cook the substance for around 20 to 30 minutes or till the artichoke has become tender. Before serving artichokes, eliminate the choke in the center of the stem, discard the leaves at the top center and also get rid of the thistle-like substance found inside the artichokes. This will make the dish tender and tastier as well as easy to eat. While eating artichokes, remove the petal leaves of the plant as one would do to the petals of a daisy and crunch into the end of the substance.
The hearts and leaves of the artichokes are rich in alkaline ash content. The artichokes also contain substantial amount of fiber or cellulose that may prove to be detrimental for people suffering from high irritation of the bowel. In fact, it is best to eat artichokes on a plummeting diet.
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Over the years, the artichoke has served both as a vegetable treat as well as a precious therapeutic plant. The roots and leaves of the artichoke plants have been valued by people since the medieval ages as they have been found to be highly beneficial in healing lethargic livers. Artichoke roots and leaves are also effectual in treating kidney problems and arteriosclerosis. It may be noted here that artichokes enclose vitamin A and C that are very effective in combating all types of infections. Artichokes have also been found to have rich contents of iron and calcium - both valuable minerals for the body.
Artichokes contain carbohydrates in a form called inulin, which has been found to maintain a stable level of blood sugar, especially in people with diabetes. While using artichokes, you should ensure that they are fresh, because eventually the inulin will be converted into different sugars when the artichoke matures.
Artichoke belongs to the thistle family and as in the case of milk thistle, this herb is beneficial for the liver. Artichoke protects the liver against infections and toxic substances. A home recipe prepared by people in the Mediterranean region uses freshly obtained leaf of artichokes with water or wine to prepare a tonic for the liver.
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Artichoke possesses exceptional abilities to combat cancer and it is also considered good for the health of the heart. Therefore, it is important that you incorporate it in your diet to obtain several health benefits offered by the plant. The leaves of artichoke plant enclose specific elements that help to lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) levels in the bloodstream, while augmenting the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol). In addition, these elements also work to increase the levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
It may be noted here that cholesterol is a particular sort of fat that accumulates inside the cardio-vascular system's arteries resulting in obstruction of blood circulation, augmented blood pressure and may potentially even cause strokes and heart attacks that may sometimes prove to be fatal. All methods to reduce the cholesterol level are considered valuable and, hence, you should try artichokes with a view to improve the health of your heart.
It may also be mentioned here that artichokes are an excellent resource of the essential mineral potassium that influences several organ systems all over our body. Potassium facilitates neutralizing the consequences of surplus sodium in the body. In fact, sodium works to raise the blood pressure. Talking in this vein, artichokes work in the form of a vasodilator and are especially helpful for people who are taking medications for hypertension to thwart the consequences of deficient potassium in their body. People with diabetes too should consume artichoke, as it helps to put off the problems related to blood pressure as well as high blood sugar levels. Precisely speaking when the blood pressure is lowered, it also diminishes the risks of heart attacks as well as coronary heart disease.
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In addition to all the above mentioned health benefits of artichoke, this plant is also beneficial for pregnant women, as it helps them to deliver healthy and normal babies. Artichokes enclose high amounts of folic acid, which can help to avoid defects in neural tissues that may often occur in newborns. The closure process of neural tissues in vitro necessitates a specific quantity of folate to be present appropriately. Hence, folic acid is an indispensable constituent of diet for pregnant women.
Artichokes are among the most excellent foods available in the market that help in obtaining minerals and vitamins, especially minerals like manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. All these minerals are vital elements for improving the health of bones as well as increasing bone density, thus diminishing the risks of developing conditions such as osteoporosis.
Minerals like manganese and magnesium are necessary for our body as they play a vital role in the metabolic process. Artichokes contain these minerals in considerable amounts. Magnesium plays a vital role in the synthesis of protein all over the body, in addition to maximizing calcium intake by the body, thereby making the bones further strong. On the other hand, manganese has a somewhat greater role compared to magnesium and it influences the pace of metabolism of specific substances like amino acids, cholesterol and carbohydrates.
Artichokes possess several remedial properties that make these plants useful for the health of our brain, counting their worth in the form of a vasodilator which enables additional oxygen to go to the brain for superior cognitive function. Artichokes are also valuable because they contain the essential mineral phosphorus which is also found in significant amounts in the brain cells. In fact, artichokes help to provide adequate amounts of phosphorus to the brain, ensuring that the cognitive function is maintained well. Deficiency of phosphorus is related to a grave decline in the ability of the cognitive system. Hence, you should eat enough of artichokes if you desire to sustain the health of your brain and also enable it to function optimally.
As mentioned earlier, artichoke is basically indigenous to North Africa. It is also found in abundance in the sub-tropical as well as the temperate climate zones like the Canary Islands. In fact, artichokes are found to grow naturally even in the vast area around the southern and western Mediterranean region. Normally, artichokes are cultivated commercially and found in the wild only if it manages to break out from any cultivation. This is because the artichokes require rich and moist soils to thrive and prosper.
Throughout Europe, people like having artichokes as a vegetable during the winter season. You can eat the baby or small artichokes even with the spiny chokes inside.
However, when you are using bigger globes to prepare any dish, you first need to place them under cold running water to wash them thoroughly. Take away the scales present in the lower layers, because they do not have any flesh. Also trim the barbed ends of the scales with a pair of scissors. Cut back the globes' tips with a parting knife by about an inch. Subsequently, spread all the scales and chafe the innermost choke. Use a lemon slice to rub over the cut area with a view to put off the choke from becoming brown. After this, boil the globe in water placing it upside down and add some salt as well as lemon juice to the water till it becomes soft.
While eating artichokes, you need to remove one leaf at one time, douse it in your preferred sauce and scratch off the plump base using your teeth. In fact, the middle of the leaf close to the attachment actually contains the main edible parts.
Generally, artichokes are harvested when the buds are yet to become mature. In fact, the buds are picked just prior to their blossoming. Fresh artichoke globes can be easily purchased from the market all through the year. However, the best quality globes are available in spring.
While buying artichokes from the stores, it is advisable that you opt for the fresh ones that seem to be heavier compared to their size and do not have any bruise or cut. Moreover, ensure that the leaves of the artichoke are firmly together and have a deep green color. The best quality artichokes also squeak somewhat when you squeeze them. Never buy extremely large and hard globes, because they are flavourless and very difficult to digest.
It is best to use the globes when they are fresh. Nevertheless, they can also be packed in air-tight plastic bags and stored in a refrigerator. When you store artichokes in this way, they keep well for about a week.