Cynara Cardoon, Globe artichoke
Cardoon, Globe artichoke

A tasty vegetable and a great cut flower.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

1 VEGETABLE AND FLOWER. Pronounced SIN-a-ra, Cynara is the genus name of two perennial vegetables known as globe artichoke and cardoon. The cardoon (C. cardunculus) can grow 6 feet to 8 feet high. The gray-green leaves overlap at the base, and the wide, plump stems form loose stalks like celery. The large, dark-silvery-green globe artichoke (C. scolymus), with arching, elaborately cut leaves, grows 3 feet to 5 feet high. The artichokes, or chokes, are the immature flower heads of this plant.

2 FUZZY PURPLE. The flower heads vary in size depending on the variety. They can grow up to 2 inches across, and the buds and “bases” of the flowers are usually green to purple and have tightly overlapping bracts. C. cardunculus blossoms are made up of purple thistlelike flowers. The Latin name “Cynara” refers to the spines below the flower, which are sharp and prickly like dogs’ teeth. Scolymus interprets as spiny or thistlelike.

3 VAST FOOD SUPPLY. The flower petals and fleshy flower bottoms of C. scolymus 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) and Europe. The roots and stalks of C. cardunculus are edible as well.

4 A HUGE FAMILY. Cynara is a member of the daisy or Asteraceae (Compositae) family. Close relatives include sunflowers, daisies, Gerberas, asters, marigolds and chrysanthemums. Globe artichokes originated in Southern Europe (from Crete and Sicily to Spain and Portugal) and Northwest Africa, and they have become naturalized in the pampas grasslands of South America.

5 SHOP AWAY. When shopping for Cynaras, it is important to purchase them depending on your needs. If you want them to show color, choose slightly open blossoms, and avoid those that are too developed. Be sure the stems and blossoms do not show signs of bruising or rot. Cynaras are available from March through December (the peak season is May through October) from Dutch growers and year-round from California growers.

6 CLEAN CUT AND DIP. Begin processing Cynaras by removing their packaging as soon as they arrive in the store. Remove foliage that would fall below water levels. Recut the stems, and dip or place them into a hydration solution following the directions on the package label. Place the flowers into clean vases filled with properly prepared fresh flower food solution.

7 FRESH AND DRY. Cynaras can be used as fresh or dried flowers. Fresh Cynaras last for seven to 25 days. Dry, they can last for years. To dry them, hang them, in full bloom, in a dry, hot area. Once dried, they can be coated with sealant, lacquer, shellac or paint.

8 CURDS AND WHEY. The dried flowers are sometimes used as a substitute for rennet to curdle milk for cheese production. Artichokes can be pickled, baked, fried, boiled or stuffed. Young artichokes can be eaten raw.

9 MEDICINE PLANT. Cynaras have been used in traditional medicine for centuries as a remedy for problems of the liver and gallbladder and for diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, anemia, diarrhea, fevers, ulcers, gout and more. Preparations are patented and prescribed in many countries.

10 EARLY ORIGINS. Globe artichokes were cultivated by the Greeks and Romans, who obtained them from North Africa. They have been grown in England since at least the 1500s and were considered an aristocratic vegetable (King Henry VIII was fond of them). They were thought to be an aphrodisiac as well. 

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 26 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.