Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Cynara cardunculus

The plant is said to yield a good yellow dye[4], though the report does not say which part of the plant is used.

  • Medicinal Use

    The cardoon has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels[238, 254].

    The leaves are anticholesterolemic, antirheumatic, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, hypoglycaemic and lithontripic[7, 21, 165]. They are used internally in the treatment of chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis and the early stages of late-onset diabetes[238, 254]. The leaves are best harvested just before the plant flowers, and can be used fresh or dried[238].

  • Edible Use

    Flower buds – raw or cooked[33, 105]. A globe artichoke substitute[183]. The flower buds are a bit smaller than the globe artichoke and so are even more fiddly to use[K]. The buds are harvested just before the flowers open, they are then usually boiled before being eaten. Only the base of each bract is eaten, plus the ‘heart’ or base that the petals grow from [K]. The flavour is mild and pleasant and is felt by some people to be more delicate than the globe artichoke[K].

    Stems – cooked and used as a celery substitute[2, 27, 33, 46, 61]. It is best to earth up the stems as they grow in order to blanch them and reduce their bitterness[4], these blanched stems can then be eaten cooked or in salads[105, 132, 183]. In Italy raw strips of the stems are dipped into olive oil[183]. We find these stems to be too bitter when eaten raw[K].

    Young leaves – raw or cooked. Eaten as a salad by the ancient Romans[183]. Rather bitter[K].

    Root – cooked like parsnips[27, 105, 183]. Tender, thick and fleshy, with an agreeable flavour[183].

    The dried flowers are a rennet substitute, used for curdling plant milks[105, 183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    None known

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – sow early spring in a greenhouse. Germination is usually quick and good, prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions during the summer. It would be prudent to give the plants some winter protection in their first year. The seed can also be sown in situ in April. Sow the seed 2cm deep, putting 2 or 3 seeds at each point that you want a plant[1]. Protect the seed from mice[1]. Division of suckers. This is best done in November and the suckers overwintered in a cold frame then planted out in April. Division can also be carried out in March/April with the divisions being planted out straight into their permanent positions, though the plants will be smaller in their first year.
Prefers a light warm soil and an open position in full sun[37, 200]. For best results, this plant requires plenty of moisture in the growing season and a good rich soil[16, 27, 33, 37], though another report says that it is drought tolerant once established[190]. Plants grew very well with us in the hot and very dry summer of 1995, though they were looking very tatty by September[K]. Tolerates most soils including heavy clays of both acid and alkaline nature, especially when grown in heavier or more spartan soils[200]. Plants are reasonably wind resistant[200, K]. This species is hardy to about -10¡c[187]. Plants are more likely to require protection from winter cold when they are grown in a heavy soil[190]. Wet winters can do more harm than cold ones[K]. At one time the cardoon was often grown for its edible stems but it has now fallen into virtual disuse[132]. There are some named varieties[183]. It is a very ornamental foliage plant and makes a very attractive feature in the garden. The leaves are long lasting in water and are often used in flower arrangements[233]. Recent taxonomic revisions (1999) have seen the globe artichoke being merged into this species. However, since from the gardener’s point of view it is quite a distinctive plant, we have decided to leave it with its own entry in the database under Cynara scolymus[K]. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[233].
S. Europe.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.