Discovering Herbs: Globe Artichoke (Cynara)
The Latin name derives from the Greek, combining a word meaning ‘pointed stake’ with the name of an Aegean island, ‘Kinara’. Globe Artichoke is a robust perennial that grows up to two metres in height. These days they tend to be cultivated without spines. They flower from July to August with blue-violet tubular blossoms, up to 15cm wide.
The ancient Egyptians and the Romans prized Globe Artichoke as a medication as well as a food but, regrettably for those suffering from poor liver function or difficulty in metabolising fats and keeping their cholesterol down, it fell into disuse as a medication. Globe Artichoke (Cynara) has a powerful effect on the production of bile and fat-digesting enzymes, stimulating liver functions and lowering cholesterol levels. Seemingly this latter action is due to increased bile production and reduced absorption of cholesterol in the intestine, with less cholesterol being synthesized in the liver and more being eliminated.
Thanks to this positive effect on managing cholesterol, Globe Artichoke may also be used to help prevent arteriosclerotic changes in the blood vessels - where fatty plaques build up inside the wall of the artery and reduce blood flow, pushing up blood pressure - thus protecting against heart disease.
Like most herbs that can elicit a digestive response, Globe Artichoke tastes bitter. The enzymes contained in Globe Artichoke are extremely effective in the digestive tract and were, in the past, used to curdle milk for cheese making!
Many, many people suffer from IBS, and Globe Artichoke may well help in this area too, when people find it hard to digest fatty foods. Symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramps on the right hand side and constipation were all alleviated with an extract of Artichoke leaf, in a clinical trial (A.F. Walker et al. Phytotherapy Research 2001; 15: 58-61). The Artichoke preparation was well-tolerated and over 80% of the patients improved. The improved bile secretion that Globe Artichoke promotes aids digestion, especially of fatty foods, and also increases bowel movement thus reducing constipation.
The Swiss naturopath, Alfred Vogel wrote: ‘Since our present-day diet is so rich in fat, it is good to take a remedy which acts as artichoke does on the gall and liver, if for no other reason than as a prophylactic measure to lessen the risk of developing gallstones.’
Like Milk Thistle, Globe Artichoke can protect the liver against the harmful effects of substances such as alcohol. As most of us are unlikely to make eating a large plate of artichoke a prerequisite for a visit to the pub, it is useful to have such remedies on hand.