The artichoke is a perennial herb plant, belonging to the genus Cynara, cardunculus species; it produces a large rosette of large leaves, gray-green in color, which can reach one meter in height, or even more. The basal leaves are large, opaque, with a divided margin; the roots are rhizomatous, and more rosettes are produced from each head; from the center of the rosette develops a fleshy, erect stem, more or less branched, which at the apex bears oval leaves, sometimes equipped with thin clear spines; at the beginning of spring, at the apex of the stems, large inflorescences, called calatidae, have a rounded or elongated shape, which are the edible part of the plant. Artichokes belong to the asteraceae family, and like these their inflorescence is a flower head (like a daisy) which has a fleshy base, on which there are small tubular flowers, which when they bloom are pink or purple in color; around the flowers there are thick fleshy or leathery bracts. The edible part of the inflorescence that has not yet blossomed, consists of the receptacle on which the flowers are inserted and the more tender part of the bracts. The actual flowers, which are located in the center of the inflorescence, make up what is called the artichoke beard, and which is removed to cook the flower. The more the inflorescence develops, the more the beard tends to become thick and leathery; therefore it is important to consume the artichokes shortly after harvesting, to prevent the flowers from becoming large and the protective bracts to thicken. In a blossomed artichoke the edible part is decidedly small. Artichokes are a highly appreciated vegetable in Italy, also because it is a traditional vegetable, as it derives from plants of Mediterranean origin, which through hybridizations and selections over millennia, have led us today to have many varieties of artichokes : some are perfectly round, with an almost non-existent beard (the so-called mothers, or mammole, Roman); others are elongated, and have large thorns (such as Sardinian artichokes) at the apex of the bracts; some produce a lot of tiny inflorescences (like the artichokes used to keep them in oil).
Cynara cardunculus various scolymus
This is the botanical name of the artichoke, cynara scolymus It is a variety of the basic species, which probably developed naturally, and then has been further "improved" by the hand of man, already starting from millennia ago. In fact, the artichoke has been consumed for thousands of years in the Mediterranean area, and essentially remains a niche product, cultivated only in some areas and not widespread as a food in the areas of Europe where field cultivation would not be possible. At one time it was food only for the rich nobles, since only the central inflorescence, the largest and most fleshy, was taken from a plant. Because each foot of artichoke scolymus produces a central floral stem, on which the largest and most showy flower will bloom; on the lateral tufts, those developed alongside, or on the ramifications of the main floral stem, smaller inflorescences develop; at one time only the thickest and fleshiest artichoke was used, and therefore the productivity of an artichoke field was very low, making vegetables a food for a select few. Typically artichokes are highly appreciated as late-winter vegetables, when in many cultures bitter-tasting vegetables are eaten; in fact the substances contained in the artichoke, which also contribute to delineate its intense flavor, work as a liver purifier, and therefore the consumption of this vegetable in the transition period of winter to spring is certainly healthy.