scientific name: Cynara scolymus
other common names: Alcachofera, Artichaut
growing areas: Temperate areas, including parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Brazil
physical description: It is a perennial herb that can grow to a height of about 6 feet. It has narrow, oblong-shaped leaves and a thick rhizome (underground horizontal stem). Its flower is used widely as a vegetable, with the petals and the bottom of the flower eaten.
traditional uses: The artichoke is widely used in Central and South America as a medicinal plant to treat liver ailments and related problems. In Guatemala the dried leaves are reported to be sold in markets to treat liver problems, while in Brazil a decoction is used for indigestion and liver ailments. Mexicans are reported to use it for hypertension, cystitis, and calcification of the liver. The bitterness of the artichoke is linked to phyto-chemicals found in the green parts of the plant. Dried artichoke leaves are useful as bitters for liqueurs.
availability and dosage: Powdered artichoke leaf can be purchased in capsule form. Commission E recommends a dosage of 6 grams a day.
contraindications: The product should be avoided by persons who are allergic to artichoke, as well as those with a bile duct obstruction, according to Commission E. Use by persons with gallstones is recommended only after consultation with a physician.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
medical research: The medicinal properties of the artichoke have been attributed by research to derivatives such as cynarin and luteolin. Clinical studies have indicated that extracts from the artichoke might inhibit the body's synthesis of cholesterol and thus help persons suffering from high cholesterol levels. These studies used hepatocytes (liver cells) of laboratory rats. But a study in which cynarin doses of up to 750 milligrams a day were given to patients with high cholesterol showed no significant changes in their serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Other tests performed with blood cells from rats demonstrated that extracts from the artichoke had a strong antioxidant potential and ability to protect cells from damage. Commission E recommends the use of artichoke extract as a choleretic and to treat dyspepsia.