The artichoke: where it is grown, growth, beneficial properties, and how to recognize it when buying.
The leaves of the artichoke are large, with a green-gray color on the upper side and a white, cottony texture on the lower side, which is covered in fine hairs. The blue-violet flowers are grouped in inflorescences (called capitula), protected by spiky bracts or sometimes not. The base of the inflorescence (referred to as the “heart” or “bottom of the artichoke”) and the fleshy bracts constitute the edible portion of the plant, which is consumed when it is not fully mature.
Artichokes (8-10 heads per plant) are mainly harvested in spring (April-May), but many reflowering varieties are cultivated for autumnal production.
Cultivation of artichoke
Artichokes are demanding in terms of climate and soil. They are sensitive to humidity and cold temperatures and prefer cool, well-drained soils that are deeply tilled, clayey-limestone or acidic-peaty.
Abundant applications of nitrogen-based fertilizers and frequent irrigation are necessary. It is also recommended to hill up the soil around the base of the plant before the harvest season, as the top portion is bulky and heavy. This helps protect the plant from winter cold.
Propagation is done through rhizome cuttings or basal shoots. Rhizome cuttings are fragments of the rhizome with buds and are taken from healthy and vigorous plants. Basal shoots, known as “carducci,” are cut from the mother plant with a small portion of the roots and 3-5 leaves. They are planted at a depth of 4-5 cm after removing the leaves.
Planting is done in spring and autumn in cooler regions. In warmer regions, planting in July-August allows for winter-spring harvesting, while planting in September-October enables late spring-summer harvesting, directly in the field instead of a nursery.
An artichoke plant usually lasts three years. During winter, if necessary, the plants can be cut 15 cm above the ground and the base protected with straw, dry leaves, or peat covered with soil.
Beneficial properties of artichoke
Artichokes are a true treasure trove of active compounds, like the other vegetables described in the Vegetables section, and boast particular therapeutic properties.
Artichokes contain very few calories and are highly flavorful and rich in fiber. They are excellent sources of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and potassium. They also have a diuretic effect and are recommended for managing cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, overweight, and cellulite.
They are also highly appreciated for their tonic and detoxifying characteristics, their ability to stimulate the liver, soothe coughs, contribute to blood purification, strengthen the heart, and dissolve gallstones.
Artichokes have significant nutritional value. The leaves contain cynarin, which is effective in treating liver and kidney ailments. They are also rich in vitamin B1 and C.
The organ that benefits the most from consuming artichokes is the liver. The previously mentioned cynarin, whose benefits are deactivated by cooking (so it is better consumed raw), promotes diuresis and bile secretion. It is widely used as an ingredient in our company that produces typical products from Puglia, found in the preserved in oil and artichoke pâté sections.
How to choose artichokes when buying
As specified for eggplants, there are various ways to choose fresh artichokes when you are at the supermarket, and the process is quite simple. Grab the artichoke with your index finger and thumb and press it. If the artichoke feels firm and compact, it is fresh. If it tends to flatten or feels soft, it is not fresh.