– Parts used in the Artichoke:
Leaves, neck and head
– History and information:
Artichokes are known in their natural form as cardoon, and their scientific classification is Cynara cardunculus, and it is native to the Mediterranean region, which is primarily why artichokes play such a major part of their cuisine on a number of levels. Artichokes can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas, but they are less frequently encountered in Asian nations.
– Nutritional value:
Artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Historians generally agree that artichokes started somewhere in the Mediterranean some say it was sicily and some have said that they originated on in Northern Africa. The Artichoke is actually an improved version of the Cardoon which is smaller and more prickly. The Cardoon buds were eaten but their stems were often more desirable. . They began cultivating them as early as the 5th century BC. They traveled up through Italy. The Dutch introduced them to England. The French brought them to Louisiana and Italian immigrants brought them to California. (courtesy of Ocean Mist Farms)
– Health Benefits of Artichoke:
- Blood Pressure:
On a related note, artichokes are rich sources of potassium, the essential mineral that has an impact on numerous organ systems throughout the body. Potassium helps to neutralize the effects of excess sodium, which is notorious for increasing blood pressure. Artichokes therefore act as a vasodilator and is particularly useful for those already taking hypertension medicine to prevent the effects of potassium deficiency. Diabetics are also encouraged to eat artichokes to prevent the complications associated with blood pressure and that disease. Finally, a reduction in blood pressure can reduce the chances of heart attacks and coronary heart disease!
- Liver Health:
Artichokes were used as traditional liver tonics for centuries, but the exact mechanism of their impact was never full understood until modern science could properly research this versatile plant. Two antioxidants (again!) found in artichokes, cynarin and silymarin, have been shown to improve the overall health of the liver by reducing the presence of toxins and facilitating their elimination from the liver and the body. Some studies have even shown these antioxidants to actively promote regrowth and repair of damaged liver cells, which is one of the slowest organs in the body to regenerate. It seems that modern medicine finally caught up with what traditional medicine has known for generations!
- Digestive Issues:
Artichokes are a rich source of dietary fiber, which is one of the most beneficial nutritional staples for improving the health and functionality of your digestive system. Fiber adds bulk to the food you eat, which helps to keep your bowel movements regular and normal, and decreasing the symptoms of constipation, fiber can reduce chances of a variety of stomach and intestinal cancers, as well as bloating, cramps, excess flatulence, and general discomfort in the stomach. Furthermore, if you have problems with loose stool or diarrhea, fiber can absorb excess liquid and form healthy, predictable bowel movements in patients. Fiber also acts as a clean up crew for excess LDL cholesterol, thereby cleaning your arteries and further reducing your chances of heart disease.
Another extra benefit of artichokes in terms of digestion is its impact on the gallbladder. Artichokes soothe inflamed gallbladders and can solve the common problem of a blocked duct in the organ, thereby allowing normal function. Therefore, in a way, artichokes can be said to stimulate the production and secretion of gastric juices, as well as bile, which also aids in smooth digestion.
- Hangover Cure:
As mentioned earlier, artichokes can be a great salve to the liver, and can reduce any blockage, as well as reduce the levels of toxins in the blood by eliminating them quickly from the body. Therefore, artichokes make for a perfect hangover cure, and some people choose to chew on a few artichoke leaves after a night of heavy drinking!
- Birth Defects:
As if all of these other health benefits weren’t enough, artichokes even help pregnant women have healthy, normally-formed children. The high levels of folic acid found in artichokes can prevent neural tube defects from occurring in newborns. The neural tube closure process in vitro requires a certain amount of folate to occur properly, so folic acid is an essential part of a pregnancy diet.
- Bone Health:
Artichokes are one of the best foods on the market for acquiring vitamins and minerals, particularly minerals like magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese. These minerals are essential parts of increasing bone health and density, thereby reducing the chances of conditions like osteoporosis.
- Metabolic Functions:
Magnesium and Manganese are both essential parts of the body’s metabolic processes, and they are also found in significant amounts in artichokes. Magnesium is an important part of protein synthesis throughout the body, as well as optimizing the intake of calcium by the body, further strengthening bones. Manganese is slightly more involved than magnesium, and it impacts the metabolic rates of cholesterol, amino acids, and carbohydrates.
- Brain Function:
There are a number of aspects of artichokes that make them beneficial for brain health, including their quality as a vasodilator that allows more oxygen to reach the brain for elevated cognitive function, for phosphorous an essential mineral that is found in artichokes and is also packed into brain cells. Phosphorous deficiencies have been associated with a serious decline in cognitive ability, so if you want to keep your brain healthy and firing on all cylinders, eat the next artichoke you see!
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