Herb: Cardoon

Latin name: Cynara cardunculus

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Cardoon:

The cardoon has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. The leaves are anticholesterolemic, antirheumatic, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, hypoglycaemic and lithontripic. They are used internally in the treatment of chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis and the early stages of late-onset diabetes. The leaves are best harvested just before the plant flowers, and can be used fresh or dried.

Description of the plant:


2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

August to

Habitat of the herb:

Stony or waste places and in dry grassland, usually on clay.

Edible parts of Cardoon:

Flower buds - raw or cooked. A globe artichoke substitute. The flower buds are a bit smaller than the globe artichoke and so are even more fiddly to use. The buds are harvested just before the flowers open, they are then usually boiled before being eaten. Only the base of each bract is eaten, plus the "heart" or base that the petals grow from . The flavour is mild and pleasant and is felt by some people to be more delicate than the globe artichoke. Stems - cooked and used as a celery substitute. It is best to earth up the stems as they grow in order to blanch them and reduce their bitterness, these blanched stems can then be eaten cooked or in salads. In Italy raw strips of the stems are dipped into olive oil. We find these stems to be too bitter when eaten raw. Young leaves - raw or cooked. Eaten as a salad by the ancient Romans. Rather bitter. Root - cooked like parsnips. Tender, thick and fleshy, with an agreeable flavour. The dried flowers are a rennet substitute, used for curdling plant milks.

Other uses of the herb:

The plant is said to yield a good yellow dye, though the report does not say which part of the plant is used.

Propagation of Cardoon:

Seed - sow early spring in a greenhouse. Germination is usually quick and good, prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions during the summer. It would be prudent to give the plants some winter protection in their first year. The seed can also be sown in situ in April. Sow the seed 2cm deep, putting 2 or 3 seeds at each point that you want a plant. Protect the seed from mice. Division of suckers. This is best done in November and the suckers overwintered in a cold frame then planted out in April. Division can also be carried out in March/April with the divisions being planted out straight into their permanent positions, though the plants will be smaller in their first year.

Cultivation of the herb:

Stony or waste places and in dry grassland, usually on clay.

Known hazards of Cynara cardunculus:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.