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The unopened flowerbud of globe artichoke is used both as a vegetable and as a key liver remedy

Artichoke

Cynara scolymus Asteraceae

The leaves of artichoke have a well-established reputation for stimulating bile flow, restoring the liver and lowering cholesterol. There is a unrelated ‘artichoke’, Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, a species of sunflower, whose tuber is eaten as a vegetable and has notable prebiotic properties.

  • How does it feel?

    You could find globe artichoke growing in gardens in the summer, or acquire a artichoke supplement. Chew a bit of the leaf, nibble at a tablet or sip a liquid dose. The fresh leaf is clearly a vegetable, with warm earthy tones, almost tasting like a root. However there is a lingering, almost comforting bitter aftertaste which feels like where the action is: quietly effective. The bitter taste becomes concentrated on drying.

    So artichoke is one of the bitter remedies, not as strong as some of the classic bitters but with a broad effect on liver and digestion.

  • What can I use it for?

    Artichoke leaf is a great remedy for liver, bile and associated digestive problems. Consider it if you are not comfortable eating fatty food or taking alcohol. It will often safely relieve biliary problems like recurrent gallbladder pains. People often use it for hangovers or the after-effects of over-indulgence.

    Artichoke should be considered if you have constipation which does not improve with the usual laxative or bulking remedies. Bile is our natural laxative and artichoke seems to increase its elimination (this may be marked by a more yellow colouring of the stool).

    Long term use of an artichoke supplement is helpful if you have high blood levels of cholesterol, and particularly if this is accompanied by being overweight or you are at risk of diabetes. It is useful in reducing the problem of insulin resistance and its long-term complications known as ‘metabolic syndrome’, one of the most common problems of the modern age.

  • Into the heart of Artichoke

    Artichoke is first a liver and bile remedy, the natural antidote to what in English is referred to as ‘liverish’ conditions, or in the French ‘crise de foie’.

    Artichoke’s primary actions are through its cooling bitter properties. The actions of bitter herbs are primarily via promoting detoxification through the liver, and thus improving the quality of blood.

    The liver is an important organ that deals with metabolism and detoxification. The liver processes and cleanses the blood that comes through from the digestive system. Our liver deals with storage of fat soluble vitamins and the elimination of dietary toxins, byproducts of metabolism, as well as hormones, used blood cells, medications and alcohol. It is a very important organ that can unsurprisingly become ‘sluggish’, and is often in need of some support.

    Herbalists are particularly interested in the liver where inflammatory conditions are involved because an overloaded or sluggish liver may result in excess toxins and hormones circulating around the body for longer.

    Because it is such an important organ the liver is often indicated for attention particularly in hormonal and inflammatory conditions. Bitter herbs reduce the toxicity and excess hormones in the blood, which benefits all the cells around the body, reducing inflammation, essentially improving blood quality. This action is said to be ‘cooling’ because cleaner blood reduces heat (inflammation).

    As with other traditional moderate bitter liver remedies like dandelion, there is a simultaneous diuretic effect. So, the overall effect is as a most impressive detox remedy.

  • Traditional uses

    The medicinal properties of artichoke have been known since antiquity, and it was particularly prized in the 16th to 19th centuries. It enjoyed a revival in the 20th century particularly in France. Here it fitted well with a cultural view that liver burdens are a core to ill-health, with many conditions being considered a liver crisis (‘crise de foie’).

    Artichoke was widely considered one of the most effective detox remedies, in conditions that in English might be characterised as ‘liverish’, to include gallbladder and biliary problems, nausea, and difficulty in managing fats and alcohol. Skin problems were often linked with this range of causes and were also treated with artichoke leaf. It was an established medicine for jaundice and hepatitis.

    19th century Eclectic physicians in the USA used artichoke as a blood cleanser (depurative) for the treatment of rheumatism, gout, as well as jaundice. They also valued its diuretic properties and applied it to oedematous conditions, low urine production (oliguria) and urinary stones.

  • Traditional actions

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Bitter
    • Cholagogue and Choloretic
    • Galactagogue
    • Hepatoprotective
    • Laxative
  • What practitioners say

    Artichoke leaf is similar in its properties to dandelion root, with some variations of its own, and the two make a very effective double act.

    Liver and bile: Artichoke is a first choice for flushing bile from the liver through the bowel. Patients often report that their stool become transiently more yellow after taking the remedy. It appears to work without any strain on liver function and can be used to relieve symptoms of liver stress, such as intolerance to fats and alcohol, or for biliary problems like gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. The impression is that artichoke is diluting the bile, reducing its concentration and aiding its elimination through the bowel. As bile is meant to be eliminated (and with slower bowel transit times in modern society may be less so than in the past) this can be an important detoxification aid. The early observation of more nitrogen waste elimination through the urine reinforces this observation.

    Digestion: Artichoke is an effective gentle bitter digestive remedy that can relieve many symptoms of upset digestion, notably nausea and vomiting (especially associated with rich, fatty food and alcohol – see above), constipation (possibly by increasing the natural laxative effect of bile), flatulence, bloating and other symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). As a bitter it is also cooling and is appropriate for traditional ‘damp-heat’ patterns accompanied by yellow coating on the tongue, signs of liver distress, perhaps of inflammatory bowel problems, intolerance to heat and humidity. It has achieved much popularity as an ‘after party’ supplement especially to combat hangover and other symptoms of over-indulgence.

    Metabolic and inflammatory: Artichoke is a prime remedy for ‘metabolic syndrome’ or pre-diabetes: the combination of insulin resistance, high blood fat and cholesterol levels, and higher BMI (body-mass index). To be effective it should be taken as a supplement over a long period.

  • Research

    Digestive: Artichoke leaf attracted research interest in Europe in the 1930s and these studies demonstrated the choleretic (increased bile flow from the liver) and diuretic activity of the leaves. Further research at the time added effect on cholesterol levels and showed that all these activities were accompanied by an increase in urea and other nitrogen-containing substances in the urine.

    In a large study artichoke leaf extract was shown to significantly reduce symptoms of functional dyspepsia (indigestion) compared to placebo (8) a conclusion reached in an earlier larger open study by other researchers (9).

    In a pilot trial, a water extract of artichoke leaf demonstrated reduced viral load of hepatitis C to below the detection level in 12 out of 15 patients. Furthermore, the liver enzymes ALT and AST, as well as the level of bilirubin were normalized. There was also inhibition of a number of CYP450 enzymes and so it may effect how other drugs are metabolised (10).

    Metabolism and diabetes: More recent studies have focused on the effect of artichoke on both blood lipids and blood sugar control. Artichoke leaf extract has been demonstrated to reduce insulin resistance, an effect modulated by a defined single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) that predisposes to metabolic syndrome (1). The same supplementation resulted in a statistically significant decrease in serum triglyceride levels in women with metabolic syndrome (2).

    In a separate placebo-controlled study on 55 overweight subjects a proprietary artichoke extract significantly decreased fasting blood glucose levels and other markers of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (3). 

    High cholesterol: In a separate study on 46 overweight subjects the artichoke extract significantly enhanced HDL levels and lowered total cholesterol and LDL levels (4). This observation was supported in a British study that showed that, compared with placebo, an extract of artichoke significantly reduced total cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolaemic subjects (5).

    A small controlled trial showed that artichoke could reduce markers of endothelial dysfunction (such as flow-mediated vasodilation and humoral markers VCAM-1 and ICAM-1) seen in people with raised lipid and cholesterol levels (6). 

    A review of the evidence for the effect of artichoke on cholesterol and lipid levels suggested that its components luteolin and chlorogenic acid could play a key role (7).

  • Did you know?

    Artichoke leaf is widely favoured as one of the most effective treatments for hangovers.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Artichoke is safe for most including for use during pregnancy and lactation (11).

  • Interactions

    • Artichoke might lower blood sugar levels. Taking artichoke along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
    • Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Artichoke might change how quickly the liver breaks down these medications. This could change the effects and side effects of these medications (12). Artichoke has been specifically to interact with the CYP450 enzymes so caution is needed if taking medicines metabolized by that gene group.
  • Contraindications

    • Contraindicated for those with a known allergy to plants of the Daisy (Asteraceae) Family (11)
    • Contraindicated for use by those who have undergone a closure of the gallbladder (11).
  • Preparation

    • Dried herb
    • Powdered herb
    • Capsule
    • Tincture
    • Fluid extract
  • Dosage

    Tincture with fresh leaf (1:2 95%): Take 1-4 ml three times a day.

    Tincture with dried leaf (1:5 40%): Take 1-4 ml three times a day.

    Liquid extract (1:2): 3- 8ml per day

    Dried leaf: 1.5- 4g per day (for most therapeutic applications).

    For treatment of high cholesterol, high doses are recommended of unto the equivalent of 4- 9g of dried leaf per day.

  • Plant parts used

    • The immature flower of globe artichoke (not to be confused with Jerusalem artichoke)
    • Leaf
  • Constituents

    • Sesquiterpene lactones (0.5 to 6%) including bitter cynaropicrin (40 to 80% of the total), and sesquiterpene glycosides cynarascolosides A, B and C
    • Caffeic acid derivatives (polyphenols) chlorogenic acid (3-caffeoylquinic acid), cynarin (1,3-dicaffeoylquinic acid), and many other dicaffeoylquinic acid derivatives
    • Flavonoids (mainly glycosides of luteolin)
  • Traditional energetics

    Rasa (taste) Bitter, salty, sweet.
    Virya (action) Cooling.
    Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
    Guna (quality) Light, unctuous.
    Dosha effect reduces excessive pitta and kapha.
    Srota (channel) Circulatory, excretory, urinary.

  • Habitat

    The globe artichoke is a perennial thistle originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean

  • Sustainability

    There is currently no available information on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status on the endangered rating of Artichoke.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers states clearly the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    1. Sow seeds either indoors or outside in March or April, 13mm (½in) deep. Indoors or outdoors.
    2. Transplant young plants to a warm sunny position in reasonably fertile, free-draining soil when they have at least five true leaves, spacing them 60–90cm (2–3ft) apart. Later thinning out to leave the strongest seedling at each point
    3. Water during dry weather and weed regularly. Seed-grown plants usually flower in their first summer.
    4. In colder regions, cover plants in late autumn with a mulch of straw, compost or well-rotted manure, to protect them during cold winter weather.
    5. Each spring, mulch with well-rotted manure or home-made compost, when the soil is warm and moist. Fertilise to improve flower production.
  • References

    1. Ebrahimi-Mameghani M, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Rezazadeh K. (2018) TCF7L2-rs7903146 polymorphism modulates the effect of artichoke leaf extract supplementation on insulin resistance in metabolic syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Integr Med. 16(5): 329–334
    2. Rezazadeh K, Rahmati-Yamchi M, Mohammadnejad L, et al (2018). Effects of artichoke leaf extract supplementation on metabolic parameters in women with metabolic syndrome: Influence of TCF7L2-rs7903146 and FTO-rs9939609 polymorphisms. Phytother Res. 32(1): 84–93
    3. Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Faliva M, et al. (2014) Metabolic management in overweight subjects with naive impaired fasting glycaemia by means of a highly standardized extract from Cynara scolymus: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Phytother Res. 28(1): 33–41
    4. Rondanelli M, Giacosa A, Opizzi A, et al. (2013) Beneficial effects of artichoke leaf extract supplementation on increasing HDL-cholesterol in subjects with primary mild hypercholesterolaemia: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 64(1): 7–15
    5. Bundy R, Walker AF, Middleton RW, et al. (2008) Artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) reduces plasma cholesterol in otherwise healthy hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 15(9): 668–675
    6. Lupattelli G, Marchesi S, Lombardini R, et al. (2004) Artichoke juice improves endothelial function in hyperlipemia. Life Sci. 76(7): 775–782
    7. Santos HO, Bueno AA, Mota JF. (2018) The effect of artichoke on lipid profile: A review of possible mechanisms of action. Pharmacological Research. 137: 170-178
    8. Holtmann G, Adam B, Haag S, et al. (2003) Efficacy of artichoke leaf extract in the treatment of patients with functional dyspepsia: a six-week placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicentre trial. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 18(11-12): 1099–1105
    9. Marakis G, Walker AF, Middleton RW, et al. (2002) Artichoke leaf extract reduces mild dyspepsia in an open study. Phytomedicine. 9(8): 694–699
    10. Elsebai MF, Abass K, Hakkola J, et al. (2016) The wild Egyptian artichoke as a promising functional food for the treatment of hepatitis C virus as revealed via UPLC-MS and clinical trials. Food Funct. 7(7): 3006–3016
    11. Bone, K. and Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy modern herbal medicine. 2nd ed. Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
    12. www.webmd.com. (n.d.). Artichoke: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-842/artichoke.

     

Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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