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| What is it?
The 'flowers' or 'heads' as they are called are much prized in certain cuisines but in herbal medicine it is mostly the leaves, but also sometimes the stems and roots that are used from this large, impressive member of the thistle family. Globe artichokes grow up to two meters and produce large, violet flower-heads. It is the lower parts of the fleshy, leafy scales that surround the flower heads and bottoms that are eaten as a vegetable.
How has it been used?
Globe artichoke is one of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables, grown by the Greeks and Romans in their ancient civilisations. Simon Mills describes Globe artichoke 'for chronic liver disease and impairment, for gall-bladder and biliary disease and for some kidney disease (e.g. possibly in cases of nephrotic syndrome and albuminurea)'
Thomas Bartram states that 'Globe artichoke will increase the flow of bile up to 60%', he says that 'it is a liver restorative that assists the digestion of fats'. He recommends them 'for high blood cholesterol and to stimulate the metabolism'.
Rudolph Weiss writes comprehensively on Globe artichoke, citing a considerable amount of scientific research in his monograph. He says 'of the scientifically confirmed actions, the anti-lipemic (blood fat lowering) effect of Artichoke is probably the most important'.
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Science on Globe artichoke
~ In a multicentre trial, patients with symptoms such as nausea, constipation, dyspepsis and functional gall-bladder conditions were treated with a Globe artichoke extract; the average dose corresponded to about 7 grams of leaf per day. After 6 weeks of treatment results for 170 patients was analysed. Improvements were most marked for nausea and vomiting (improvement in 95% of cases) and abdominal pain ((75% improvement). In addition symptoms such as flatulence and fat-tolerance were improved. There was also a significant reduction in mean total cholesterol from 267/mg/dl to 228/mg/dl. (Wegener T.Z Phytother 1995; 16:81)
~ In a trial of randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, total cholesterol levels significantly decreased after Globe artichoke administration to patients whilst their beneficial high density lipoprotein (HDL) tended to increase. These results were confirmed in another trial of similar design in which a high dose of Globe artichoke (equivalent to 6-8grams of dried leaf pre day for 6 weeks) decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and the LDL/HDL ratio in adults with initially high cholesterol levels. (Englisch W et al: Arzneim Forsch 50:260-265, 2000)
~ Treatment with a standardised Globe artichoke extract (equivalent to 8.6 g/day dried leaf) reduced the severity of symptoms of patients with irritable bowel syndrome in a feedback based study. The overall effectiveness of Globe artichoke rated favourably with both physicians and patients; 96% of the patients rated the herb as better than or at least equal to previous therapies. (Walker AF, Middleton RW, Petrowicz O: Phytother Res 15(1):58-61, 2001)
Safety of Globe artichoke
Direct skin contact with the fresh plant can cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals but Globe artichoke is seen as an extremely safe herb (and food) that can freely be taken by young and old including pregnant and breast-feeding women. There are no adverse reports in the medical literature despite it being used extensively as both food and medicine.
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The modern use of Globe artichoke seems to have somewhat pigeon-holed it as a natural way to reduce blood fats and cholesterols. This is not surprising given the strong clinical evidence that it can genuinely help in this manner but it is not something I have personally focused on with Globe artichoke but rather I love this herb in how it can be confidently used to stimulate better liver function without the same worry that you will cause a temporary worsening of their symptoms that come with many of the other potent liver herbs.
I am very interested in my patient's cholesterol levels, even to the point of having a certified machine in my clinic that pin-points the exact levels of their good and bad cholesterol and their triglycerides, however my primary focus is on ensuring that the good (HDL) levels are high enough rather than getting me or my patients into the mind-set of trying to get their LDL levels down.
For those who are interested in the sticky subject of cholesterol there is a wider discussion here. In a nutshell if you have enough good cholesterol then you don't have to worry about the bad but Globe artichoke really is an excellent herb to improve the blood fat profile and do my patients cholesterol levels improve when they use a good amount of it for at least 6 weeks,? Yes they do.
The main way I personally use this herb is alongside other liver herbs such as Dandelion root, Burdock and St Mary's thistle. In such uses I would typically give a dose of Globe artichoke that equated to about 2 mls of the liquid tincture or a tsp of the dried herb, ideally before food and at least twice a day.
Globe artichoke is fantastic as a tea, albeit of course it is rather bitter! Here, if you drink a cup with a quiet mind yourself, I think you will be able to palpably feel how it gently nudges your body into a mild state of cleansing. It is refreshing, strong & sure but also gentle. The tea has a particular advantage of being able to be used in a simple infusion alongside other herbs without the need to go through the much more arduous preparation required by decoction that many of the other liver remedies require in their raw form.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Globe artichoke is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Globe artichoke can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Globe artichoke; Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Diuretic and alterative. Reputed very beneficial in dropsies, and has been efficient in rheumatism, gout, jaundice, tic-douloureux, etc.
The recent leaves only should be used in the form of an extract, or alcoholic solution.
Dose of the tincture, 30 to 60 drops, repeated 3 times a day; of the extract, 3 to 6 grains (Dr. Badely, in London Lancet, 1843, p. 556).
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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