Useful for the liver and to detoxify the body, artichokes are vegetables rich in active ingredients that confer purifying, digestive and anti-cholesterol properties. Discover the benefits of artichokes and how to best use them.
Artichokes (Cynaria Scolymus), are a vegetable belonging to the composite family and derive from selections of the thistle (Cardo Cardunculus).
The artichoke plant, herbaceous and perennial, has an elongated stem with a height ranging from 50 to 150 cm, up to two meters. The leaves are large and green-gray in color and are used as a herbal medicine. The fruits, gray-brown in color, have an oval and elongated shape and can be with or without thorns and small or large. The flowers, blue and hermaphrodite, are found on the receptacle, commonly called “heart”, forming a flower head. The receptacle and the base of the bracts are the edible part.
The artichoke needs a mild and humid climate but is able to withstand even lower temperatures, close to 0 degrees. The most suitable period for the cultivation of artichokes is the month of June, while the harvest takes place between October and May.
Italy is the largest producer of artichokes and the crops are found mainly in Sardinia, Lazio, Tuscany, Puglia and Liguria. Among other countries we find it in particular in Spain and France.
There are several varieties of artichoke on the market, those cultivated in the world are about 90. They can be rounded or elongated, with or without thorns, with a green color of different shades and can also have shades of purple. Let’s see an overview of the most popular.
Varieties of artichokes: which are the most common?
A first classification of artichokes provides for the subdivision into thorny varieties and unarmed varieties, ie without thorns. Both types also include different varieties with a violet color, a characteristic emphasized by each denomination.
The small and spring Violet of Tuscany and the more full-bodied and autumnal Artichoke of Sardinia DOP (acronym of Protected Designation of Origin) are part of the first group. The latter is excellent to be consumed raw. Intuitively, the Spinoso di Palermo also falls into the first group and is an autumn / winter variety known for its culinary versatility. The violet of Sant’Erasmo (or of Chioggia) is another thorny variety, capable of developing in the Veneto area. In this case, it is a spring variety.
The Romanesco Artichoke of Lazio IGP (acronym of Protected Geographical Indication) belongs to the second group, also known as “cimarolo” or “mammola”. It is a spring variety that is characterized by its large size and the absence of thorns. The Violet of Castellammare and the Violet of Catania are also unarmed artichokes: the first represents a spring variety, while the second is among the autumn / winter varieties. The autumn Violet of Provence (or Perinaldo) and the spring Artichoke of Cupello are also unarmed artichokes, as well as the tasty Brindisino Artichoke (harvested from November to May) and the tenderPaestum artichoke (spring), both known for their IGP brand. In this regard, the varieties of artichokes awarded the PGI or the PDO mark have an additional value.
The properties of artichokes have been known for centuries, especially thanks to their purifying action on the liver. Let’s see together the nutritional characteristics and benefits of these precious vegetables.
Artichokes: calories and nutritional values
Artichokes have few calories, about 22 per 100 grams of edible part, and many fibers, which contribute to the anti-cholesterol and hypoglycemic action of these vegetables. Thanks to the abundance of fiber, the artichoke has a very low glycemic index, which makes it a food suitable for diabetics. The characteristic bitter taste of the artichoke is due to a substance called cynarin, which is responsible for many of the beneficial properties of artichokes.
Artichokes are also rich in nutrients such as potassium and iron salts, while they have a low content of vitamins. We also find some sugars allowed for diabetics, such as mannite and inulin, and other minerals such as copper, zinc, sodium, phosphorus and manganese. The artichoke also contains mucilage and small amounts of flavonoid compounds with antioxidant properties: beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthina. Let’s now take a look at the nutritional values and characteristics of the main components.
Nutritional values per 100g of artichokes:
- Waterfall: 91.3 g
- kcal: 22
- Proteins: 2.7 g
- Fat: 0.2 g
- of which saturated: 0.036 g
- Carbohydrates: 2.5 g
- of which sugars: 1.9 g
- Fibers: 5.5 g
- Potassium: 376 mg
- Iron: 1 mg
- Magnesium: 45 mg
- Soccer: 86 mg
- Phosphorus: 67 mg
- Copper: 0.24 mg
- Zinc: 0.95 mg
- Vitamin B1: 0.06 mg
- Vitamin B2: 0.1 mg
- Vitamin B3: 0.5 mg
- Vitamin A: 18 µg
- C vitamin: 12 mg
- Glycemic index: 20
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Artichokes: nutritional properties
As we have mentioned, artichokes have a high amount of fiber, different minerals (potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc) and a small amount of vitamins. The most abundant minerals are iron and copper. But the substance that characterizes this vegetable is certainly the cynarin, responsible for many properties. Let’s see together the characteristics of these elements.
- Iron: it is an element that stimulates various organs such as the liver, spleen and intestine. It guarantees a correct supply of oxygen to the cells of our body as it stimulates the production of hemoglobin, a protein of which it is part and which is responsible for the transport of oxygen. Iron is also neurologically important for the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. An iron deficiency causes anemia, fatigue, increased susceptibility to infections, depression.
- Copper: it is essential for the development of the nervous system and for the heart system. Copper plays a crucial role in the conversion of iron to its available form and is also important for the immune system, as it maintains the level of white blood cells. Due to these important functions, a copper deficiency leads to degeneration of the nervous system, heart failure, anemia and weakening of the immune system;
- Cinarina: cinarina is a substance that derives from caffeic acid and to it we owe the characteristic bitter taste of the artichoke. Cynarin is able to lower bad cholesterol levels, it also promotes diuresis and bile secretion. However, it is thermolabile, so to reap the benefits it is necessary to consume raw artichokes.
Furthermore, artichokes contain carbohydrates (inulin and mannitol) allowed for diabetic subjects and antioxidant substances such as lutein and beta-carotene.
Artichokes: health benefits
The elements just seen, working in synergy, give the artichokes useful properties for the well-being of our body. So let’s see what are the benefits that these vegetables bring to our health.
✓ They are diuretics
Artichokes stimulate diuresis thanks to the presence of potassium and cynarin, so they are important for renal purification, to lower blood pressure and to counteract cellulite. The infusion prepared with artichoke leaves is ideal for stimulating diuresis and eliminating toxins, the taste is very bitter but it is definitely worth it.
✓ Lower bad cholesterol levels
The consumption of artichokes, in particular of the leaves and the extract, has been shown to be valid in reducing the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases, thanks to the presence of inulin, a fiber, and various acids. Furthermore, artichokes are able to reduce the level of triglycerides.
✓ They are rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are useful in counteracting the action of free radicals, substances that can favor the onset of tumors. In artichokes, particularly in the heart, chlorogenic acid is present, a strong antioxidant useful in the prevention of cardiovascular and atherosclerotic diseases. In artichokes there are also other antioxidants, such as rutin and quercetin polyphenols and flavonoids. Artichokes are in 7th place for antioxidant content, out of 1000 types of plant foods.
✓ They help digestion
These vegetables have always been used to promote digestion. This property of artichokes is given by the presence of cynarin, a bitter substance that we have already had the opportunity to know, which favors the digestive processes, in particular by stimulating bile secretion.
✓ Regulate intestinal transit
Artichokes are rich in fiber, so they are useful in regulating intestinal transit in case of constipation and help cleanse the colon of waste and toxins.
✓ They are suitable for diabetics
Artichokes are ideal vegetables for people suffering from diabetes or for those who need to keep the glycemic index under control. In fact, artichokes are rich in inulin, a polysaccharide that is not used by the body for energy production and therefore improves blood sugar control in diabetics.
✓ Artichokes protect the liver
The main function of the artichoke is certainly the hepatoprotective one. In fact, in the leaves of the artichoke, cynarin is present, a substance that promotes diuresis and biliary secretion so it is useful in diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. However, it is deactivated by cooking, so it is necessary to consume the raw artichoke to benefit from this property.
How many artichokes to eat
A portion of artichokes cleaned from scraps corresponds to about 200 grams or, more practically, to about 2 medium-sized artichokes, to be consumed even two or three times a week. In any case, it is preferable to alternate artichokes with other seasonal vegetables to vary the diet.
Artichokes: how to use and consume them
Let’s now see some tips on how to choose and use artichokes. First of all it is good to choose them compact and heavy, with closed ends and dirty beard inside. The outer leaves must have a nice dark green color, without spots, while the inner ones must be tender and light green. The stem should be firm to the touch, but tender and not bruised. Before consuming them, it is necessary to remove the hardest outer leaves, cut the tip with the thorns and clean the stem.
The best way to consume artichokes is to eat them raw, to fully benefit from the antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties. You can consume the tender leaves of the artichoke in a salad dressed with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For those who want, you can add flakes of parmesan.
We can also prepare an herbal tea with artichoke leaves to optimize their diuretic and purifying properties. You need 200 ml of water and 30 g of dried artichoke leaves (available in herbal medicine). After boiling the water, turn off the heat and put the artichoke leaves to rest for five minutes. Filter and drink. If you can’t stand the strong bitter taste, we can sweeten it with stevia or add a few heads of chamomile or a spoonful of fennel seeds which also enhances the effect.
Artichokes in oil: how to make them at home
A few simple steps are enough to prepare artichokes in oil. First of all, it is necessary to clean each artichoke in order to obtain the heart, which must, in turn, be cut into four equal segments. The wedges must then be immersed in cold water and lemon juice, and soaked for about two hours.
In the meantime, a mixture of water and vinegar must be boiled (consider a liter of water and 500 mL of vinegar for one kg of artichokes cleaned from waste) and add a pinch of salt. When it has boiled, it is possible to dip the artichokes in it, cooking them for 5 minutes. Therefore, it is necessary to drain the artichokes, let them cool and dry them with a sheet of kitchen paper. At this point, it is possible to layer the artichokes inside glass jars (sterilized), also adding some basil leaves and some pink peppercorns; therefore, cover everything with olive oil.
Generally, artichokes in oil can be stored for a few weeks, although it is preferable not to exceed a month. For a good conservation, it is important to keep the artichokes completely immersed in oil, taking them, from time to time, with a clean cutlery.
As we have seen above, artichokes are rich in fiber and minerals and boast several beneficial properties for human health. In particular, artichokes have antioxidant, detoxifying and diuretic properties, and are also useful for controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The cooking phase can determine losses in terms of minerals and vitamins and the addition of the oil determines a caloric value higher than the starting vegetable. Therefore, artichokes in oil preserve practically all the nutritional qualities of cooked artichokes, even if they bring more calories due to the oil.
How to freeze artichokes?
Like many other products of the earth, artichokes can also be stored in the freezer. However, in order to preserve the consistency and quality of these wonderful vegetables, it is advisable to follow some preliminary steps, and then proceed with a cooking phase.
- First of all, it is preferable to obtain the innermost part of the artichokes (the so-called “artichoke hearts”), by removing the stems, the more woody outer leaves and the internal fluff; therefore, you can proceed by cutting the newly obtained artichoke hearts into wedges;
- Then, the artichokes must be blanched for 5 – 10 minutes and, at the end of cooking, kept in water and lemon for a few minutes;
- Once cooled, it is advisable to arrange the wedges on a tray, keeping them separate from each other, and place them in the freezer for 40 minutes.
- After this time, it is possible to distribute the artichokes inside special food bags and freeze them again. This procedure ensures that the wedges do not stick to each other during freezing.
The frozen artichokes can be stored for a few months.
Artichokes: contraindications and potential negative effects
Let’s now see the contraindications of artichokes. The consumption of this vegetable is not recommended in subjects suffering from gallstones as it could cause blockage or obstruction of the bile duct resulting in painful colic. It is forbidden to take it for those suffering from allergy to plants of the Asteraceae family and for women who are breastfeeding, as the artichoke inhibits the secretion of milk.