PURPLE ROMAGNA ARTICHOKE (Cynara scolomus) is said to be the most tender of the chokes, but it also might be the most beautiful. The large round choke heads are green to purple crowned with a brilliant purple thistle if allowed to go to flower. You'll get 3-5 chokes per plant. Hardy perennial to Zone 7, which means it can also be container grown and brought to overwinter slumber indoors for 4 months before reviving in the Spring. 85 days. 10 seeds.
HISTORY: Considered an aphrodisiac in the 16th Century, it was not socially acceptable for women to partake! Thought to have originated in the Mediterranean, and domesticated in Sicily, artichokes were quickly popularized among the aristocracy in Italy, France and Spain who were the only ones who could afford them at first. Those countries are now the top producers in the world outside of California.
NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICINAL: Artichokes are worth the bother because they are so powerful in their ability to fight cholesterol, maintain digestive health, protect the liver, and as cancer protectants and fighters, especially for prostate, breast and leukemia. Artichokes are high in fiber, low in calories, and contain folate, potassium, magnesium and Vitamin C. The leaf of the artichoke makes an excellent digestive tea as it stimulates the gallbladder and the release of bile counteracts excessive stomach acids and excessive fats. So it is a useful treatment for gas and bloating. Also detoxifies the liver (Warning: do not use if you have gallstones, and safety has not been established for pregnant women, nursing mothers or children.) The leaves and stems contain cynarin, which lowers cholesterol and triglycerides.
ABOUT ARTICHOKES: Artichokes or "chokes" as they are commonly called, are a member of the thistle family native to the Mediterranean. Artichokes date back thousands of years and were referenced in Greek mythology as a sensuous vegetable favored by the gods. It has also been a favorite of aristocrats and affluent members of society. The Artichokes we eat are the immature flower bud of the plant which is called the "heart". Usually steamed, they can also be eaten raw or cooked. The heart, or center of the bud, is eaten along with small, tender outer leaves. The stem is also edible and best cut an inch or so below the bud. Although artichokes grow wild in southern Europe, most of the artichokes you see in the store are California grown. But it is possible to grow certain varieties in the home garden, depending on your growing cycle.
GROWING TIP: Artichokes are perennials, so choose your location in the garden carefully, providing protection if possible both from the elements and foot traffic. Mine thrive even during harsh winters when put under a glass cloche in Autumn, lifted when spring arrives. Artichokes will rarely produce flowers the first year. Sow seeds one inch deep spaced 5-6 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 5-6 feet apart. Thin plants to two 2/12 feet apart. Cut back in fall and heavily mulch to protect from the cold and prevent heaving. Pull the mulch back in Spring. When the chokes appear you must cut them before they flower - unless you are growing to achieve seed only.
TO GATHER SEED: If you want to save artichoke seed for future use or to share, select the very best chokes (in the second year) and mark for seed gathering by tagging the stalks. Let these "go to seed" or pass the edible stage. Their scales will get hard and purple florets will cover the head. Little side buds will emerge which you will want to pinch off so that all the strength of the plant is reserved for seed production. You may also want to cloak with a garden cloth or bend the seed stalk over to protect the seed heads from the rain. The seeds are found in the seed case after the white thistle down has blown away. Extracting seeds from the spiny calyx is difficult and you'll probably want to use gloves to protect your hands.