Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, famously said ‘let medicine be thy food and let food by thy medicine’. Globe artichoke is a perfect example of ‘food is medicine’ with both herbal and dietary use of the plant displaying a beneficial impact on our health, including cholesterol metabolism.
Globe artichoke, or Cynara scolymus, is technically a type of thistle, native to the Mediterranean area. The edible part is the plant’s flower bud which looks like a large bulb. If allowed to bloom, a bright purple flower dazzles the eye, however it is barely edible.
Its use in both culinary and medicinal worlds dating back to Ancient Roman and Greek times, whose people considered artichokes to be a delicacy and aphrodisiac. It was held in such high regard that in the 16th century, it was scandalous for women to eat artichokes!
We support everyone enjoying artichokes, as does the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival (held in California USA). It was there in 1948 that Marilyn Monroe was the town’s first honorary Artichoke Queen!
Globe Artichoke: a helpful herb
Traditionally, globe artichoke was used as a bile stimulant and as a liver tonic. It has also long been used for gall bladder support, indigestion and nausea. This traditional use has since been confirmed by scientific studies* which highlight the significance of the actions performed by Globe artichoke. These studies have also demonstrated the active constituents in Artichoke are its phenolic acids; known as caffeoylquinic acid or cynarin, and luteolin (Salem et al 2015).
Globe artichoke has also been shown to be useful for relieving the symptoms of indigestion, nausea, flatulence, bloating and digestive discomfort and other non-specific digestive symptoms. It has been reported to have antispasmodic activity, as well as displaying cholagogue and choleretic actions.
Management of cholesterol and lipids
Globe Artichoke stimulates the production of bile in the liver (choleretic action) and also stimulates the flow of bile into the intestinal duodenum (cholagogue action). As bile is made from endogenous cholesterol, increasing the production of bile helps to bind and excrete fats and cholesterol from the body.
Globe artichoke extracts containing cynarin and luteolin have been shown to help maintain normal cholesterol levels in healthy individuals. This is thought to be due to modulation of the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, in addition to choleretic and cholagogue actions. Inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme reduces cholesterol synthesis within the body.
An additional way Globe artichoke impacts lipids is by reducing oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Damage to the blood vessels can occur due to oxidative stress of LDL cholesterol. Limiting this damage is a key aspect of long term management of cholesterol and lipid levels in healthy individuals.
As mentioned above, Globe artichoke is able to reduce oxidative stress due to its antioxidant properties. The leaf extracts of Globe artichoke have been shown to significantly increase plasma total antioxidant capacity.
The antioxidant effects also apply to edible artichokes eaten. Studies * show that cooking artichokes increase antioxidant phenolic content, and that baby artichokes exhibit higher free radical scavenging capacity than mature artichokes (Lutz et al 2011).
Globe artichoke: a favourite food
Globe artichoke has been a popular food throughout history and now we know why! It is high in antioxidants and is also a source of inulin.
Inulin is a form of carbohydrate found in Globe artichokes, and some other plants, that our intestines cannot digest or absorb, but is fermented by bacteria in our colon. As food for our probiotic bacteria, it is known as a prebiotic and can stimulate growth of healthy bifidobacterium in the intestine.
So what’s the best way to eat it?
There are so many ways to enjoy globe artichoke – marinated, steamed, fried, stuffed and baked. However a few things to keep in mind:
- Look for a fresh artichoke that feels heavy for its size and squeaks when squeezed. Avoid those that look dry, have split leaves, or heavy browning.
- Fresh artichokes can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to five days. Wash before cooking.
- Before cooking, trim the bottom and the tough outer leaves and discard. Snip the thorny tips off the top leaves as well.
Check out our Marinated Artichoke Recipe.