Pronounced SIN-a-ra, Cynara is the genus name of two perennial vegetables known as globe artichoke and cardoon. The cardoon (C. cardunculus) can grow 2-3m high. The gray-green leaves overlap at the base, and the wide, plump stems form loose stalks like celery.
The large, dark-silvery-green globe artichoke (C. scolymus), with arching, elaborately cut leaves, grows 1-2m high. The artichokes, or chokes, are the immature flower heads of this plant.
Globe artichokes were cultivated by the Greeks and Romans, there is a Greek legend aurrounding artichokes: “Zeus grew bored with the women on Mount Olympus and decided to go slumming on Earth. He met a sexy Greek girl named Cynara, but she grew tired of him and left. So Zeus hurled a lightning bolt at Cynara and turned her into an artichoke.”
They have been grown in England since at least the 1500s and were considered an aristocratic vegetable (King Henry VIII was fond of them). They were thought to be an aphrodisiac as well. The Spanish settlers brought artichokes to California in the 1600’s, however they did not become widely grown or used in California until the 1920’s.
Castroville California and the artichoke really made it on the map when Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948. Eighty percent of all artichokes grown commercially are from Castroville. Castroville is located approximately 98 miles (156km) south of San Francisco, and 16 miles north (25 km) of Monterey. Flowering Artichokes, Baby Artichokes and Purple/Chocolate Artichokes are among the most popular in the Floral Industry.
Cynara is a member of the daisy or Asteraceae (Compositae) family. Close relatives include sunflowers, daisies, Gerberas, asters, marigolds and chrysanthemums. Globe artichokes originated in Southern Europe (from Crete and Sicily to Spain and Portugal) and Northwest Africa, and they have become naturalized in the pampas grasslands of South America.
The flower heads vary in size depending on the variety. They can grow up to 5cm across, and the buds and “bases” of the flowers are usually green to purple and have tightly overlapping bracts. C. cardunculus blossoms are made up of purple thistle like flowers. The Latin name “Cynara” refers to the spines below the flower, which are sharp and prickly like dogs’ teeth. Scolymus interprets as spiny or thistle like.
The flower petals and fleshy flower bottoms of C. scolymus are eaten as a vegetable throughout the world, which has led to its commercial cultivation in many parts of South and North America (chiefly California) and Europe. The roots and stalks of C. cardunculus are edible as well.
Cynaras are available from March through December (the peak season is May through October) from Dutch growers and year-round from California growers. Fresh Cynaras can last for 7- 25 days. Dried Cynaras can last for years. To dry them, hang them, in full bloom, in a dry, hot area. Once dried, they can be coated with sealant, lacquer, shellac or paint.
The dried flowers are sometimes used as a substitute for rennet to curdle milk for cheese production. Artichokes can be pickled, baked, fried, boiled or stuffed. Young artichokes can be eaten raw.
Cynaras have been used in traditional medicine for centuries as a remedy for problems of the liver and gallbladder and for diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, anemia, diarrhea, fevers, ulcers, gout and more. Preparations are patented and prescribed in many countries.
Wikipedia: Cynara is a genus of about 10 species of thistle-like perennial plants in the family Asteraceae, originally from the Mediterranean region, northwestern Africa, and the Canary Islands. →