December 29th, 2011 The globe artichoke, also called the "French artichoke" and "green artichoke" derives from northern Italian words for pinecone, an apt comparison to the thistle head of this bristly plant. Native to the Mediterranean region, the artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle-like plant in the sunflower family. The artichoke belongs to the same family as thistles, sunflowers, lettuce, salsify, chrysanthemums, and thousands of other species. Purple flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud with numerous triangular scales. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the "heart"; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke" or beard. These are inedible in older larger flowers. Artichokes have been cultivated for over 3000 years. In ancient Greece and Rome, artichokes were commonly called "cardoon" (Latin for thistle). The plant was grown in darkness, blanching it of colour; and only the young, tender leaves were eaten. It was grown in ancient Carthage, Sicily, Greece, and Rome before the common era and was one of the most popular garden plants in Rome in the second century common era. It was used as both greens (an herb) and as a salad plant and commanded a higher price than many other plants. In some parts of Spain, the dried cardoon flowers were used for curdling milk for making cheese. The first record of a modern artichoke – one that we would recognize today- is from Naples circa 1400. From Naples, it was taken to Florence and Venice. Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II of France, is credited with bringing the artichoke from Italy to France, where it was quickly adopted with instant success. Next, the artichoke made its way to Britain, then to America via French and Italian explorers. The artichoke never became so popular in England or her colonies as in France, Spain, and colonies settled by the French and Spanish. It is grown in the United States to an appreciable extent in only two districts: Louisiana, settled by the French; and the mid-coastal part of California, settled by the Spanish. In Italy, artichoke hearts are packed in oil. Stuffed artichokes recipes are also common in Italy. In Spain, younger more tender artichokes are barbequed and sautéed, and used in paella or in a frittata. In Greece, an ancient dish called Aginares a la polita is hearty, savoury dish – a stew made with artichoke hearts, potatoes, carrots, lemon, and dill. Artichoke can also be made into an herbal tea; it acts as a diuretic and improves liver function. Artichokes are a good source of potassium and one artichoke contains roughly 25% of daily folacin. Artichokes will keep best in the refrigerator, about two weeks in a plastic bag.