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Cynara scolymus (Globe Artichoke)

Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus), a member of the milk thistle family, grows to a height of about 2 m and produces a large, violet-green flower head. The flower petals and fleshy flower bottoms are eaten as a vegetable throughout the world, which has led to its commercial cultivation in many parts of South and North America (chiefly California) as well as in Europe.

The artichoke was used as a food and medicine by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; in Rome, the artichoke was an important menu item at feasts. It wasn't until the 15th century, however, that it made its appearance throughout Europe. Since then the leaf of Cynara scolymus has been used as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, choleretic, hepatoprotective, cholesterol-lowering, lipid-lowering, and glucose-lowering substance.1


Artichokes are highly nutritious, being low in fat while rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are a naturally rich source of vitamins A, K, C, B-6, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. One medium artichoke contains almost 7 grams of fiber, which is 23 to 28% of the reference daily intake (RDI). These delicious thistles come with only 60 calories per medium artichoke and around 4 grams of protein — above average for a plant-based food.2

Antioxidant Rich

Globe artichokes rank among the most antioxidant-rich of all vegetables. One artichoke supplies 25% of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin C. Artichokes are also a great source of silymarin, a flavonoid antioxidant that is liver protective, as well as rutin, quercetin, and gallic acid.3

Phytotherapeutic Properties and Uses

Historically and throughout Europe preparations of artichoke (extracts) have been used for bloating, nausea, and impairment of digestion. It is specifically indicated for "dyspeptic syndrome" though its proven lipid-lowering actions suggest that it may also be useful as a prophylactic against atherosclerosis.

Pharmacopoeia Indications

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia reported hepatoprotective and hepato-stimulating properties. The Merck Index reported the therapeutic category of cynarin, an active principle of artichoke, as choleretic. In numerous studies artichoke leaf has shown cholesterol-lowering and lipid-lowering activity in rats and humans. Human studies have also validated carminative, spasmolytic, anti-emetic, and choleretic actions. The African Pharmacopoeia indicates its use for the treatment of liver dysfunction and reported its diuretic and anti-atherosclerotic actions. The German Commission E approved artichoke leaf for dyspeptic problems due to its choleretic activity.


As a food, globe artichokes are an extremely nutritious, low-carb food that may provide numerous health benefits. However, research is mostly limited to studies using concentrated artichoke extract.

Liver Protective Antioxidant Properties

There have been several studies associated with liver pathology and the Cynara scolymus leaf extract. Gebhardt demonstrated the antioxidant and hepatoprotective effects of Cynara scolymus leaf extract in primary cultured rat hepatocytes.4

Additionally, in a study with human leukocyte cultures, caffeic acid-, chlorogenic acid-, cynarin- and lutein-containing Cynara scolymus leaf extracts have been reported to have antioxidative effects, with the Cynara scolymus leaf extract expressing its antioxidant affects as a radical scavenger and a PMA-induced radical generation inhibitor.5

Furthermore, as a result of in vivo studies in rats, the Cynara scolymus leaf extract has been suggested to reduce lipid peroxidation6 and protein oxidation as well as increase glutathione peroxidase activity.7

Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

Health-promoting properties of globe artichoke in preventing cardiovascular disease is primarily due to its lipidic and glycemic-reducing action.8 Artichoke extract has been shown to regulate excess lipids by decreasing LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol. 9, 10, 11, 12

Improvement of Carbohydrate Metabolism

Cynara scolymus leaf extract has also been shown to improve carbohydrate metabolism, and thus is potentially effective for type 2 diabetes.13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Regulating Blood Pressure

Artichoke leaf juice exhibits an antihypertensive effect in patients with mild hypertension.19

Chemical Constituents

Artichoke leaves contain phenolic acids, sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, phytosterols (taraxasterol), sugars, inulin, enzymes, and essential oils. The pharmacologically fundamental constituents of the leaf are phenolic acids and flavonoids. The phenolic acid derivatives include caffeoylquinic acids such as 3-caffeoylquinic acid, cynarin, and caffeic acids. The flavonoid compounds of the leaf are luteolin-7-β-D-glucoside, luteolin-4-β-D-glucoside and luteolin-7-β-rutinoside.20, 21, 22

Globe artichokes have become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. By its bitter materials Cynara scolymus strengthens the digestive procedures and stimulates the effective conversion of fats. Artichoke also contains the bioactive agents apigenin and luteolin.23

Psychoemotional Signature

In traditional phytotherapy, all plants have both a physiological effect and psychoemotional effect. According to European phytotherapy, the psychoemotional nature of the artichoke expresses itself in completely opposite tendencies. On the one hand, the plant brings out extravagance, lavishness and over-abundance, while it also opposes such extravagance through the expression of self-restraint. Hence, the result is equilibrium between debauchery and self-restraint. Thus, the nature of this plant supports the mind in its tendency to find reconciliation between boundlessness and renouncement or between self-indulgence and self-denial. Within this equilibrium, thoughts and activities may be directed away from material pursuits towards something spiritually higher.

Preparing and Cooking Artichokes

Globe artichokes can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, or sautéed. They can also be stuffed or breaded, adding spices and other seasonings for an extra burst of flavor. Steaming is the most popular cooking method and usually takes 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size. Alternatively, you can bake artichokes for 30 to 40 minutes at 350°F. Keep in mind that both the leaves and the heart can be eaten.

Once cooked, the outer leaves can be pulled off and dipped in sauce, such as aioli or herb butter. Simply remove the edible flesh from the leaves by pulling them through your teeth. Once the leaves are removed, carefully spoon out the fuzzy substance called the choke until you reach the heart. You can then scoop out the heart to eat alone or atop pizza or salad.

The history of the artichoke is a perfect example of science finally catching up to the longstanding traditional uses of a medicinal plant. While scientists still argue today over which specific chemical or group of chemicals is responsible for each documented beneficial action, the traditional uses for high cholesterol, as well as for liver, gallbladder, and digestive disorders, are being validated. While many Europeans still have to see their doctors for an artichoke extract prescription, concentrated natural leaf extracts and standardized extracts are widely available in the United States at health food stores.

Artichoke Extract Dosage

Typical doses used in human research range from 300 to 2000 mg of artichoke leaf extract daily taken in divided doses. Side effects of artichoke extract are rare, though people with bile duct disorders and women who are pregnant, or breastfeeding, may wish to avoid it.

The Bottom Line

Regular consumption of artichokes or artichoke extract may aid cholesterol levels, blood pressure, liver health, digestive disorders, and blood sugar levels.


  1. Jimenez-Escrig, Antonio, Lars Ove Dragsted, Bahram Daneshvar, Raquel Pulido, and Fulgencio Saura-Calixto. In vitro antioxidant activities of edible artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.) and effect on biomarkers of antioxidants in rats. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51, no. 18 (2003): 5540-5545.

  2. Lattanzio V, Kroon PA, Linsalata V, Cardinali A. 2009. Globe artichoke: A functional food and source of nutraceutical ingredients. J Function Foods 1: 131-144.

  3. Küskü-Kiraz Z, Mehmetçik G, Dogru-Abbasglu S, Uysal M. 2010. Artichoke leaf extract reduces oxidative stress and lipoprotein dyshomeostasis in rats fed on high cholesterol diet. Phytoter Res . 24: 565-570.

  4. Gebhardt, Rolf. Antioxidative and protective properties of extracts from leaves of the artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.) against hydroperoxide-induced oxidative stress in cultured rat hepatocytes. Toxicology and applied pharmacology 144, no. 2 (1997): 279-286.

  5. Pérez-García, Francisco, Tomàs Adzet, and Salvador Cañigueral. Activity of artichoke leaf extract on reactive oxygen species in human leukocytes. Free Radical Research 33, no. 5 (2000): 661-665.

  6. Speroni, E., R. Cervellati, P. Govoni, S. Guizzardi, C. Renzulli, and M. C. Guerra. Efficacy of different Cynara scolymus preparations on liver complaints. Journal of ethnopharmacology 86, no. 2-3 (2003): 203-211.

  7. Jimenez-Escrig, Antonio, Lars Ove Dragsted, Bahram Daneshvar, Raquel Pulido, and Fulgencio Saura-Calixto. In vitro antioxidant activities of edible artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.) and effect on biomarkers of antioxidants in rats. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51, no. 18 (2003): 5540-5545.

  8. Rondanelli M, Monteferrario F, Perna S, Faliva MA, Opizzi A. Monaldi Arch Chest Dis. 2013 Mar; 80(1):17-26.

  9. Englisch W, Beckers C, Unkauf M, et al. 2000. Efficacy of Artichoke dry extract in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneimittelforschung 50: 260–265.

  10. Bundy R, Walzer AF, Middelton RW, Wallis C, Simpson HC. 2008. Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) reduces plasma cholesterol in otherwise healthy hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, double blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine 15: 668-675.

  11. Wider B, Pittler MH, Thompson-Coon J, Ernst E. 2009. Artichoke leaf extract for treating hypercholesterolaemia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 4 : CD003335.

  12. Qiang, Zhiyi, Sun‐Ok Lee, Zhong Ye, Xianai Wu, and Suzanne Hendrich. Artichoke extract lowered plasma cholesterol and increased fecal bile acids in Golden Syrian hamsters. Phytotherapy Research 26, no. 7 (2012): 1048-1052.

  13. Vinik AI, Jenkins DJ. 1998. Dietary fiber in management of diabetes. Diab Care 11: 160-173.

  14. Nazni, P., T. Poongodi Vijayakumar, P. Alagianambi, and M. Amirthaveni. Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effect of Cynara scolymus among selected type 2 diabetic individuals. Pak. J. Nutr 5, no. 2 (2006): 147-151.

  15. Fantini, Noemi, Giancarlo Colombo, Andrea Giori, Antonella Riva, Paolo Morazzoni, Ezio Bombardelli, and Mauro AM Carai. Evidence of glycemia-lowering effect by a Cynara scolymus L. extract in normal and obese rats. Phytotherapy research 25, no. 3 (2011): 463-466.

  16. Nomikos T, Detopulou P, Frogopulou E, Pliakis E, Antonopoulou S. 2007. Boiled wild artichoke reduces postprandial glycemic and insulinemic responses in normal subjects but has no effect on metabolic syndrome patients. Nutr Res 27: 741-749.

  17. Heidarian E, Rafieian-Kopaei M. Pharm Biol. 2013 Sep; 51(9):1104-9. Epub 2013 Jun 7.

  18. Ben Salem M, Ben Abdallah Kolsi R, Dhouibi R, Ksouda K, Charfi S, Yaich M, Hammami S, Sahnoun Z, Zeghal KM, Jamoussi K, et al. Protective effects of Cynara scolymus leaves extract on metabolic disorders and oxidative stress in alloxan-diabetic rats. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Jun 19; 17(1):328. Epub 2017 Jun 19.

  19. Roghani-Dehkordi, Farshad, and Amir-Farhad Kamkhah. Artichoke leaf juice contains antihypertensive effect in patients with mild hypertension. Journal of dietary supplements 6, no. 4 (2009): 328-341.

  20. Lattanzio, Vincenzo, Paul A. Kroon, Vito Linsalata, and Angela Cardinali. Globe artichoke: a functional food and source of nutraceutical ingredients. Journal of functional foods 1, no. 2 (2009): 131-144.

  21. Wang, Mingfu, James E. Simon, Irma Fabiola Aviles, Kan He, Qun-Yi Zheng, and Yaakov Tadmor. Analysis of antioxidative phenolic compounds in artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.). Journal of agricultural and Food Chemistry 51, no. 3 (2003): 601-608.

  22. Escop, and European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy. ESCOP Monographs: the scientific foundation for herbal medicinal products. Thieme, 2003.

  23. Cesar G. Fraga. Plant Phenolics and Human Health – Biochemistry, Nutrition and Pharmacology. Wiley. p.9.

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