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.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of artichoke’s key qualities below to learn more:
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 are referred to as ‘liverish’ conditions, or in the French ‘crise de foie’.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know?
Artichoke leaf is widely favoured as one of the most effective treatments for hangovers.
Artichoke leaf is very safe.
Traditional Galenic and western traditions classified artichoke leaf as ‘cooling and drying’ and indicated for damp heat syndromes, such as liver problems, intolerance to fats and alcohol, digestive upset which may merge into bowel inflammation or infections.
The Ayurvedic interpretation of these qualities is as follows
- 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.
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.
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. The same supplementation resulted in a statistically significant decrease in serum triglyceride level in women with metabolic syndrome. In a separate placebo-controlled study on 55 overweight subjects a proprietary artichoke extract significantly decrease fasting blood glucose levels and other markers of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. In a separate study on 46 overweight subjects the same team showed significantly enhanced HDL levels and lowered total cholesterol and LDL levels. 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. 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. 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.
In a large study artichoke leaf extract was shown to significantly reduce symptoms of functional dyspepsia (indigestion) compared to placebo, a conclusion reached in an earlier larger open study by other researchers. In a pilot trial a water extract of artichoke leaf demonstrated reduced the 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.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
2-5 g of dried leaf per day or in equivalent preparations
- 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)