Though artichokes are commonly thought of as vegetables, the part of the artichoke that you eat is actually the bud of a flower before it blooms. After blooming, the artichoke becomes a single, purple blossom, but most are harvested for food before they get to that point.
The artichokes you find at grocery stores or farmers markets are round and covered with spiky leaves. When steamed, artichokes have a tender texture and a sweet, earthy taste that make them an excellent addition to dips and sauces, as well as a perfect stand-alone snack.
The artichoke is native to the Mediterranean region. Today, the artichoke industry is largely based in California, but you can still find artichoke plants growing throughout the Mediterranean. Fresh artichoke is most commonly found between the months of February and June or September and December, when the plant is in season.
Artichokes are frequently cited as a superfood, in part because of their high levels of antioxidants. Studies show a number of proven and potential health benefits of artichokes.
Blood Pressure Control
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. One study showed that artichoke leaf juice helped regulate blood pressure for people with mild high blood pressure. Though studies are still in their early stages, researchers believe that the high levels of potassium in artichokes may be a contributing factor to this effect.
Early studies suggest that artichoke leaf extract may help lower cholesterol levels. Because research on these effects have been limited and the sample sizes were relatively small, however, artichokes are not yet being recommended as a treatment for high cholesterol.
A few small studies have shown that artichoke can improve liver function for people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Though there’s no data yet about its effect on alcoholic fatty liver disease, there’s evidence that artichoke leaf extract can contribute to overall liver health.
Nutrients per Serving
An artichoke is a filling, nutrient-dense vegetable that can easily be added to your weekly meal plan. One medium artichoke has:
In addition to being a fat-free, low-sodium food, artichoke is also rich in key nutrients, including:
- Vitamin C
With so many rich nutrients packed into a low-calorie food, artichokes make for an easy snack or a tasty side dish to the main meal.
How to Prepare Artichoke
Preparing fresh artichoke can feel intimidating if you've never done it before, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. Rinse the artichoke and then cut off the stem. Open the petals up a little bit, and then steam the artichoke for 30 to 40 minutes.
Once your artichoke has been steamed, you have a few different options for eating it. Some people choose to peel away the petals of the artichoke and only eat the center, or "heart.” However, some of the best nutrients are concentrated in the leaves. To get the full health benefits, you can pull the leaves off the artichoke and scrape off the meaty part with your teeth.
You can find recipes online for different ways to season your artichoke leaves to make them even more delicious. Artichoke and artichoke heart can also be purchased canned or jarred to be used as an ingredient in dips, pasta, or stir-fry.