Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday - Artichokes

It’s Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! We hope you’re enjoying these posts to focus on seasonal produce and dive into the natural wisdom these crops have to offer our bodies and the ecosystems they’re a part of.

Artichokes can typically be found year-round in grocery stores, but they’re poppin’ in my garden right now so I was inspired to delve deep into their nutritional and medicinal benefits. Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean region, and are now found throughout America, Europe and Middle Eastern countries. They were commonly used in Roman and Greek medicine for stomach issues, and later become known for treating liver issues and jaundice. Nearly all commercially grown artichokes in the US are from California, so they’re certainly a crop that would be easy to explore growing in your garden if you aren’t already.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_trim_an_artichoke/

Planting artichokes from seed can be tricky and takes a lot of time, so they are more commonly transplanted from root divisions. Artichokes like a lot of sunlight and require heaps of water to get tender buds, but they also need well-draining soil to keep the crown and root system from getting too moist. They are big nitrogen eaters, so keep that in mind when planning your garden and pair them with cabbage, peas, sunflowers or tarragon – some great companion plants that won’t compete with the artichokes for nutrients.

They have a long harvesting season in Mendocino and Lake Counties, often ready to be harvested from March through October. You should harvest artichokes when the diameter of the bud is 3 to 5 inches and the green petals are still closed, before the flower head fully blooms causing it to become hard and inedible. But don’t worry if you didn’t harvest them in time! They become beautiful, large purple flowers that pollinators can access easily, attracting helpful pollinators, like bees, to your garden.

So why are artichokes so special nutritionally? A study done by the USDA found artichokes to be the vegetable with the highest levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are key to your immune system and help fight off oxidative stress and free radicals in the body, which then helps abate the onset of diseases and aging of the skin. Studies have shown that the key antioxidants in artichokes – gallic acid, rutin and quercetin – help reduce cancerous cell and tumor growth as well. The immune system gets a nice boost from their richness of vitamin C, which along with the phosphorous they contain plays an important role in brain health. You can also help maintain your bone health through all the calcium, copper, potassium, and magnesium they provide.

Artichokes are also very valuable for fighting inflammation in the body and contributing to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A substance called cynarin is extremely powerful in bringing cholesterol levels down. Additionally, this potassium rich vegetable is helpful in regulating blood pressure due to potassium’s ability to neutralize blood pressure increasing effects of excess sodium.

The liver and digestive system love these funky veggies as well! The substance cynarin comes into play again, being great for stimulating bile production which then helps digest food and allows you to properly absorb essential nutrients from your food. Artichokes are a diuretic and help you eliminate toxins quickly as well as serve as a sort of salve or protection for the liver. This has made them useful as a hangover cure, and apparently chewing on some artichoke leaves after drinking too much alcohol can help reduce the symptoms of the impending hangover! While it sounds like artichokes can serve as powerful tools for liver health, keep in mind that they can exacerbate symptoms of liver disease or gallbladder issues if already present.

One medium artichoke contains 10 grams of fiber, which is about 25% of the suggested average daily requirement. The high fiber content helps with the digestive system, detoxing waste, sugar, toxins and cholesterol, promoting good gut bacteria, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and preventing colon cancer. Artichokes contain a certain fiber, inulin, that is a prebiotic and especially helpful for improving gut bacteria. Artichoke hearts tend to be more popular, but artichoke leaves actually contain most of the antioxidants and phytonutrients, and extracts made from the leaves are often used to help relieve symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).While artichokes are full of benefits, it’s important to note that they are a thistle and could cause an issue for people that are allergic to chrysanthemums, daises, marigolds or ragweed.

These spikey looking blooms might seem intimidating to cook at first, but they’re actually quite versatile and easy to prepare. Just simply boil, grill, roast, sauté or steam them, then pull off the outer leaves and scrape the edible flesh off with your teeth, remove the fuzzy “choke” until the heart is exposed, scoop it out and enjoy!

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  1. Healthline - Top 8 Health Benefits of Artichoke and Artichoke Extract
  2. Organic facts - 10 Amazing Benefits of Artichokes by John Staughton
  3. Dr. Axe Food is Medicine - Artichokes: Benefits, Recipes & Nutrition Facts by Jillian Levy
  4. Natural Food Series - 13 Amazing Health Benefits of Artichokes by Michael Jessimy
  5. Gilmour - Artichoke Plant: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Artichokes
  6. Michigan State University Extension - Artichokes Have More to Offer Than You Realize by Sarah Rautio

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