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An artichoke is a big thistle plant that is native to the Mediterranean. Artichoke is the common name for a plant of the composite flower family. The artichoke grows wild in the south of Europe and is cultivated in the United States, primarily in California. The leaves proceed from the base of the stem and are long and somewhat spiny. The stem is up to 3 ft high, branched, with large heads of violet-colored, thistle-like flowers at the summits of the branches. The thickened heart and fleshy bases of the leaves of the immature flower are the portions eaten.

In past centuries the artichoke was used as a diuretic. It was even thought to have deodorizing properties and was considered an ideal breath freshener.

In Turkey artichoke decoctions are used as blood cleansers and for detoxing the liver which in turn cleanses the skin. That country also considers the artichoke to be the ideal remedy for hepatitis.

Today, vegetables are recognized as mini packages of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The artichoke is being examined in research labs to explore its phytochemical contents. Two of these compounds, cynarin and silymarin, possess powerful antioxidant properties that may be beneficial in helping the liver to regenerate tissue growth.

That our ancestors considered the artichoke an appetite stimulant is no surprise. Research has found that the phytochemical cynarin truly does stimulate the taste buds. It's also responsible for bringing sweet flavors to any foods you eat immediately after eating the artichoke.

Fiber is a prime feature of this vegetable with one medium artichoke supplying a hearty 6 grams. Dieters can also enjoy the artichoke for its low count of only 60 calories.

This delectable vegetable offers 4 grams protein.

The artichoke is a no-fat, no cholesterol treat that offers a host of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, chromium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

The vitamin A content soars to 212 IU. For the B vitamin, niacin, it supplies 1.20 mg while vitamin B6 offers .13 mg. All-important folic acid adds up 61.2 mcg and vitamin C provides 12 mg.

Artichokes are a good source of calcium measuring 54 mg while iron supplies 1.5 mg. Magnesium climbs to 72 mg while potassium scores an impressive 425 mg. Even zinc makes an appearance with .6 mg.

Because artichokes are so well endowed with nutrients and phytochemicals, many health researchers believe eating them may contribute to the prevention of certain types of heart disease, cancer, and birth defects.