Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wild Artichoke

Wild artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)
The wild artichoke is known by several names probably as a result of the popularity of this plant as a food and in traditional medicine. 

It is known as the artichoke thistle, cardoon, cardone, cardoni, carduni or just cardi. In Maltese it is known as qaqoċċ tax-xewk. It is the wild variety of the cultivated globe artichoke, the popular Maltese vegetable qaqoċċ.

Wild artichoke is common in clayey areas and disturbed ground especially abandoned fields and roadsides. It is recognized by the large spiny leaves and also by the large bluish flowers which can be seen from late spring to early summer. 

It can be found growing along the road that runs along the valley leading to and from Chadwick Lakes. The flowers which resemble those of a large thistle attract large numbers of insects especially beetles.

The wild artichoke grows up to one metre while the cultivated version can grow up to two meters. It is a native of the Mediterranean and has been cultivated since ancient times. In the fourth century BC Theophrastus, a Greek writer, wrote about it as it was already popular in Greek cuisine. Its popularity continued in Roman times right through the medieval period until early modern times. 

The cultivated varieties are grown in parts of France, Spain and Italy and Malta.

In Tunisia I tasted a meat stew which contained the fleshy central part of the wild artichoke. A similar dish, the Cocido madrinelo, a slow-cooking, one-pot, meat and vegetable dinner simmered in broth is one of the national dishes of Spain.

The wild artichoke is used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production. In Portugal, traditional coagulation of the curd relies entirely on this vegetable rennet. It has also been considered as a possible source of bio diesel. The oil extracted from its seeds is called artichoke oil and it can be used as a table or cooking oil.

Artichoke is the primary flavour of the Italian liqueur Cynar which is used as an aperitif. It is popular as it improved digestion as a chemical known as cynara increases the flow of bile.

This article appeared in The Times on 09.06.10

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