The Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) also known as French Artichoke or Crown Artichoke is a large perennial plant. They grow up to 1½ metres tall and a metre across, have striking silver grey foliage and spectacular purple thistle flowers which would be very attractive in any garden, but it is its delicately flavoured, edible flower bud that is most sought after. This flower bud is picked and eaten before it blooms. Only the heart and the fleshy base of the leaves are edible. The floral parts in the centre and base of the flower (the choke) must be removed before eating. The globe artichoke is very closely related to thistles. It probably originated in North Africa where they still grow wild today. From there it was probably taken by traders across the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily and Greece then on to the Romans. It has been recorded as being cultivated around Naples in the middle of the 9th century where it was a food of the wealthy. Its cultivation was recorded in France and Holland in the early 15th century and by the early 16th century it was being grown in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall. Early English migrants took it to America and Australia. In Australia it wasn’t grown much until the arrival of the Italian migrants in the 1940’s.
In most areas of South East Queensland our climate is probably too humid for this plant to grow successfully but if you are in a cooler area or just like a challenge or really love its flavour give it a go. Globe artichokes prefer cool, moist summers and mild winters and a deep, rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
Site selection and preparation is important as they will stay in the same place for quite a few years. Select an open sunny position which is well drained, if drainage is a problem raise the garden bed. Dig the site thoroughly and add plenty of well rotted manure, compost and blood and bone and if necessary some garden lime. They will grow in most types of soil as long as it drains well while retaining moisture. They can be grown in large containers but the same soil conditions would apply.
Globe artichokes can be grown from seed, root cuttings or suckers, seeds will take a year or two longer to produce buds, so root cuttings or suckers are preferable. Seeds can be planted in Spring or in frost free areas they can also be planted in Autumn. When planting root cuttings/suckers plant them with soil at the same level as before, water well and protect from the sun until they are established. Suckers can be removed from the base of existing plants when they are at least 3 years old, always leave at least 3 on the original plant. These can be planted in Autumn and winter but protect from frost. Fertilise with liquid fertilisers and mulch well to retain moisture. The first growing season may produce a few buds but most artichokes do not flower until the second year of growth and should then have several flower shoots with a large artichoke at the tip of each and several smaller ones lower down. After the first harvest you may get a second crop later in the season. This can be encouraged with a good watering of comfrey tea after the initial harvest. When the growing season is over the leaves yellow and die back, cut back the stems to about 4cm or 5cm above the ground and apply some well rotted manure and blood and bone to enrich the soil for next years crop. Artichokes can be divided every 2 - 3 years, starting off new plants.
Eden Seeds and Green Harvest both stock Australia’s most popular variety Green Globe, Eden Seeds also has French Purple (Violet de Provence) and Green Harvest Violetta.
The major problem growing Globe Artichokes in our area would be crown rot. This is why good drainage and a cooler location in summer is essential. In wet weather snails and slugs can be a problem and aphids can take a liking to the flowers. Mould and mildew can occur in overcrowded, damp and shaded positions.
The peak season for harvesting artichoke is the spring, but depending on areas they can be harvested from mid winter through to mid summer and then again in mid autumn. The flower buds are ready to harvest when they are large and swollen, the scales still soft and green, purple or bronze (depending on variety) and tightly closed, also the head should squeak when squeezed. If you wait for them to open they will be too tough to eat. Pick the large artichoke at the tip first, usually about 8cm – 15cm across then pick the side buds when they have reached a decent size. Cut them from the plant with 2cm – 5cm of stem.
Prepare Globe Artichokes for cooking by removing most of the stem leaving only about ½ cm. Some varieties have sharp tips on the scales which need to be cut off before cooking, then remove and discard the small leaves covering the choke; they usually pick up some of the fuzzy bits, and so are best simply disposed of. Use a spoon or your finger to scrape out the soft, furry choke without losing any of the tasty heart below. The “choke” is the cluster of immature florets at the centre of the artichoke and should not be eaten. The artichoke can then be boiled or steamed until tender. If not cooked immediately, brush all the cut surfaces with lemon juice or soak them in water with some lemon juice or vinegar and water to prevent browning. This is necessary when leaves are removed and eaten one at a time. The “choke” can also be removed after cooking, depending on how you are cooking the Artichoke. Small artichokes can be eaten whole, without removing the inside spiny choke. Artichokes can be deep fried, baked, boiled, steamed, sautéed or even barbecued. To check if your artichoke is cooked, gently push a fork into its base. When artichokes are baked, braised, or stewed in olive oil with garlic, they take on buttery, nutty, and meaty qualities, flavours deeper than what you get from boiling or steaming. The canned artichoke hearts are baby artichokes. In Italy the artichoke is the primary flavour of the liqueur Cynar. In Vietnam they make a herbal tea from artichoke leaves.
Medicinally Globe Artichokes are classed as a bitter herb, they are useful for aiding digestion, liver ailments, gallstones, lowering of cholesterol levels and as a blood cleanser. They are high in potassium, calcium and iron.
Apart from culinary and medicinal uses, the artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flower and also used for cut flower displays.