Artichoke, Globe

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Artichoke, Globe

Botanical Name: Cynara Scolymus
Family: N.O. Compositae

The Globe Artichoke (Cynara Scolymus, Linn.) also has a tuberous root, but it is the large flower-buds that form the edible portion of the plant, and it is from a similarity in the flavour of the tuber of the Jerusalem Artichoke to that of the fleshy base of this flower that the Jerusalem Artichoke has obtained its name.

The expanded flower has much resemblance to a large thistle- the corollas are of a rich blue colour.

It is one of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables, grown by the Greeks and the Romans in the heyday of their power. It was introduced into this country in the early sixteenth century both as a vegetable and an ornamental plant in monastery gardens.

Gerard (1597) gives a good figure of the Artichoke. Parkinson (1640) alludes to a statement of Theophrastus (fourth century B.C.) that 'the head of Scolymus is most pleasant, being boyled or eaten raw, but chiefly when it is in flower, as also the inner substance of the heads is eaten.' Though this 'inner substance' - botanically the 'receptacle' - has a delicate flavour, it contains little nutritive matter. Tournefort (1730) says: 'The Artichoke is well known at the table. What we call the bottom is the thalamus on which the embryos of the seeds are placed. The leaves are the scales of the empalement. The Choak is the florets, with a chaffy substance intermixt (the pappus). The French and Germans boil the heads as we do, but the Italians generally eat them raw with salt, oil and pepper.'

In Italy the receptacles, dried, are also largely used in soups.

The whole plant has a peculiar smell and a strong bitter taste. It was reputed to be aperient.

Cultivation: It is grown either from seed sown in March, in a deep, moist, rich soil which may be greatly aided by wood-ashes and seaweed (for it is partial to saline manures, its home being the sandy shores of Northern Africa); or by planting suckers in April; the latter is preferable for a permanent plantation. Strong plants may be ensured by inserting them 4 feet each way, but market growers usually put out suckers in rows 4 1/2, feet apart, and 2 feet distant in the rows. Suckers should be planted when about 9 inches high; put in rather deep in soil and planted firmly and covered with rough mulch. If the weather be dry, they will need watering, and during hot weather water and liquid manure should be given freely to ensure a good supply of large heads.

Seedlings that are started well in a suitable bed do better than plants from suckers, especially in a dry season.

Vigorous seedlings send down their roots to a great depth. To get large heads, all lateral heads should be removed when they are about the size of a large egg. After the heads are used, the plant should be cut down.

The Artichoke is hardy on dry soils in winters of only average severity. But on moist soils - so favourable to fine heads - a severe winter will kill the plantations unless they have some kind of protection. This is usually ensured by cutting down the stems and large leaves without touching the smaller central leaves, and when severe frost threatens, to partially earth up the rows with soil taken from between, also adding dry, light litter loosely thrown over; the latter is removed in the spring and the earth dug back, and a liberal supply of manure dug in. At the end of five years a plantation is worn out; the best method being to sow a bed annually and allow it to stand for two years.

The flower-stems grow erect and attain the height of 4 to 6 feet. They are each terminated by a large globular head of imbricated oval spiny scales of a purplish-green colour. These envelop a mass of flowers in the centre. These flowerheads in an immature state contain the parts that are eatable, which comprise the fleshy receptacle usually called the 'bottom,' freed from the bristles and seed-down, commonly called the 'choke,' and the thick lower part of the imbricated scales or leaves of the involucre.

Although Artichokes are a common vegetable, they are not so much in request with us as on the Continent.

In France, the bottoms are often fried in paste, and enter largely into ragouts. They are occasionally used for pickling, but for this purpose the smaller heads which are formed on the lateral shoots that spring in succession from the main stem, are generally preferred when about the size of a large egg.

The chard of Artichokes, or the tender central leaf-stalks, blanched, is by some considered to be equal to the Cardoon.

The flowers are very handsome, and are said to possess the property of coagulating milk.