Common Names

Artichoke, Globe Artichoke
Botanical Name
Cynara scolymus

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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)'

Andrew Chevallier writes 'Artichoke is a valuable medicinal plant, like St Mary's thistle, it benefits the liver, protecting against toxins and infection... Artichoke extracts, and cynaroside in particular, appear to reduce cholesterol synthesis in the liver, while leaf extracts are strongly antioxidant and liver protective'

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'.


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)

~ Globe artichoke was shown to have significantly positive results in the treatment of dyspepsia (Holtmann G, Adam B, Haag S, et al. 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 2003;18:1099–105)

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, Beckers C, Unkauf M, et al. Efficacy of Artichoke dry extract in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneimittelforschung 2000;50:260-5)

~ 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)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 100 further studies and articles on Globe artichoke are listed in a PDF found here

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.

General comment on herbal safety

All medicinal herbs that have the power to do good have the potential to do harm. The old maxim 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us. The ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. Not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs, but equally we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities that, not so long ago, decried herbal medicines as ineffectual, have now taken up a different adversarial position; that they are dangerous substances that should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. Such cautions are absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver that has long been proven to be effective at manipulating people.

Unfortunately, the same unnecessary fear and worry has crept into many natural health websites and popular publications on herbs. Herbs that we have safely used for thousands of years, that have no reports of adverse reactions in the medical literature despite widespread use by millions of people, are suddenly described as contraindicated because of something that should have been seen as completely unimportant, or at the utmost a merely theoretical concern, such as a laboratory study on one of the herb's constituents to use an all too common example.

I wonder sometimes if the writers of such articles feel that the herb will be more deserving of respect if it is thought to be a little bit dangerous, in other words more like a drug than something that has simply come out of the earth and been used by ordinary people for generations beyond count.

There is just so much misinformation about herbal medicine on the internet now. Ludicrous claims and cautions abound in equal measure; it seems like one group are trying to make money out of the public whilst the other are busily trying to scare them off.

I have to believe that the kind of reader who takes the time to read pages on herbs that are as extensive as this one is much less likely to be swayed by marketers or misinformers. I hope that you will keep your wits about you if you get conflicting opinions from people who have never really got to know these herbs, who have never worked with them, or learned how to use them safely and effectively.

I want to remind you that the reason that herbs can never be patented and owned by any individual or corporation is because they are, and always will be, the People's medicine. They belong to all of us and it is my great hope in sharing this work that you will learn how to use them wisely for yourself, and the people you care for. Be safe, but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

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 solely 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.

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 at least about 2 mls of the liquid tincture or a tsp of the dried herb, ideally before food and at least twice a day. It is, by and large, a herb that needs reasonably high doses to get a sure effect.

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.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here


Constitutional note

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?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Globe artichoke can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd