Cynara scolymus (Artichoke)

All flowers are sensual in their form and beauty, yet the edible artichoke flower bud is uniquely evocative of pleasures in the flesh. As one pulls the fleshy layers off the bracts with teeth edges, one ingests this sensuality. The artichoke is a superfood, and one of the few flowers we eat. In a Sioux folktale, an artichoke and muskrat taunt each other with their gifts. From another region, the philandering Zeus fell in love with Cynara, a beautiful woman sunbathing on an island. He made her a goddess but she would secretly leave Mount Olympus and return to her island to swim. In anger, Zeus turned her into an artichoke. The word artichoke derives from the Arab al-karsufa, and was cultivated extensively by Arabs in Spain.

This perennial from the Asteraceae family, native to north Africa near the Mediterranean, descends from the cardoon, (Cynara cardunculus) or artichoke thistle. Cynara scolymus is less spiney with larger flowers than the wild plant. The unopened flower head of the globe artichoke is usually harvested, though if left alone, a resplendent purple thistle flower emerges.

Since ancient times, artichoke has been a potent medicine. Artichoke is considered a superfood due to high nutrient content, with antioxidant properties, lowering cholesterol, benefitting digestion, liver health and with anti-cancer effects. The leaves of artichoke, rather than the head, provide the potent medicine. The plant’s aphrodisiac properties have long been revered, and Catherine de Medici ate them voraciously in public, though in France at the time, it was illegal as women were not allowed to eat foods with aphrodisiac properties.

Elizabeth Oriel 2022