The artichoke is a perennial plant with purple flowers. Although the artichoke is regarded as a vegetable, the edible portion of the plant is actually the unopened flower bud. Artichoke leaves and roots have been used as remedies to treat conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to the prevention of hangovers caused by the consumption of alcohol.
Ynara Scolymus is the botanical name for the artichoke, a thistle plant that produces one of the oldest known foods. According to mythology, the Greek god Zeus fell in love with a beautiful woman named Cynara. Zeus transformed her into a goddess and took Cynara to live with him. Cynara didn’t like her new home and wanted to return to Earth. That angered Zeus. The god sent her home, but Zeus transformed Cynara into the world’s first artichoke plant.
The artichoke, a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family, is native to Mediterranean countries in southern Europe, northern Africa, and the Canary Islands. Ancient people recognized the value of the artichoke as both a food and a remedy. Greeks and Romans regarded the artichoke as a delicacy and a treatment for digestive troubles. They also viewed the artichoke as an aphrodisiac, an aid used to enhance romantic feelings and sex drive. Greeks thought that taking artichoke was a remedy for women who wanted to give birth to sons.
There are more than 50 artichoke varieties. These varieties don’t include the Jerusalem artichoke, which is a tuber.
The only artichoke grown in the United States is the green globe. Spanish settlers brought the artichoke to the New World during the 1880s, and 80% of green globes are grown in Castroville, California. The town calls itself the ‘‘Artichoke Capital of theWorld.’’ Castroville was among the first to recognize a woman who would become a 20th Century movie goddess. The
actress Marilyn Monroe served as the first California Artichoke Queen, a title she received in 1949.
As a food, a medium artichoke contains 25 calories and 3 grams of fiber. It is also a source of Vitamin C, the B vitamin foliate, and magnesium. The leaves contain cynarin, a plant compound that small studies showed may help to lower cholesterol.
Considering the legend surrounding the creation of the artichoke, it may not be surprising that the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac. However, it also served as a folk medicine treatment for a range of other conditions. Over the years, the artichoke was used as a remedy for anemia, arthritis and rheumatism, gallstones, gout, indigestion, itching, and snakebite.
Contemporary uses of artichoke
Artichoke leaf extract has been used as a remedy for conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, cholesterol management, and hangovers. Other uses include treating indigestion and appetite loss. The artichoke is thought to stimulate bile, the fluid secreted by the liver. By stimulating bile, artichoke leaf extract might provide relief for indigestion. Artichoke leaf has been approved for some of those conditions in the German Commission EMonographs, a guide to herbal remedies. Those approved uses are the treatment of liver and gallbladder conditions and appetite loss.
In the United States, artichoke leaf is marketed as a dietary supplement because the herbal remedy has not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA.) The lack of FDA review means that artichoke leaf has not been proven to be safe or effective. Furthermore, ingredients are not standardized to comply with federal regulations.
In 2007, the American Journal of Health–System Pharmacy ‘‘Alternative Therapies’’ column highlighted some of the research into the use of artichoke leaf extract as a remedy for irritable bowel syndrome, cholesterol management, and alcohol–induced hangovers.
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME. Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition affecting the digestive tract. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, pain, and gas. In addition, a person may experience constipation, diarrhea, or both symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms may increase during a stressful time or after a person eats.
In a study of 208 people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, the participants were assessed two months before and after treatment with 320 mg or 640 mg of artichoke leaf extract. During the follow–assessment, participants reported a 26.4% decrease in irritable bowel syndrome, according to the American Journal of Health–System Pharmacy. The dosage strength did not make a significant difference in the outcome.
The journal concluded that artichoke leaf extract may alleviate some symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome or dyspepsia (impaired digestion). Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine noted that a small study suggests that artichoke leaf extract could help relieve irritable bowel symptoms.
CHOLESTEROL. Artichoke leaf extract has been marketed as a product that may balance LDL (low–density lipoprotein), which is also known as bad cholesterol. However, studies as of 2013 had not proven the effectiveness of artichoke on cholesterol management.
HANGOVER. A hangover is caused by the body’s reaction to alcohol, a substance that is toxic. The amount of alcohol that produces a hangover varies with each person. Hangover symptoms include an intense headache, fatigue, and dehydration. Artichoke leaf extract has been marketed as remedy to prevent hangovers. However, the medical community was skeptical about this claim, and small studies showed little proof that artichoke leaf extract was effective at preventing hangovers.
Herbal artichoke is available in capsule and extract form. Capsule strength ranges from 170 mg to 320 mg, so people should follow the directions on the product package. The average capsule dosage is 6 gm per day, and the daily artichoke leaf extract dose is about 500 gm per day. People should discuss the dosage with their doctor or health practitioner. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people diagnosed with conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, liver blockage, and heart or blood vessel disease.