The cardoon is native to the Mediterranean area and is a wild variety of the Globe artichoke, although it is now cultivated as it was in Dioscorides’ time (1st century AD), for its stalks rather than the tops. These look like large, rough celery stalks. It is popular in Italy, Spain and Portugal but fell into disfavour in Britain in the twentieth century. The Victorians loved it though and there are many recipes given for cooking its stalks. You can eat the tops as long as you harvest them just before the petals bloom and eat the base and the flower head. It is a very striking plant with silver-grey green leaves that are very spiky, so you have to take care if you are close to one. They are classed as an invasive species in California, Argentina and Australia, where they were introduced.
  Pliny says that they were cultivated for their medicinal value, and the leaves in particular have been used in traditional medicine for chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis, late-onset diabetes in its early stages and as a diuretic as well as a digestive aid. They can help disperse stones in the internal organs and are believed to be good for rheumatism. The Romans used to eat the stalks in salads, and even today the Italians sometimes eat them after boiling by just dipping them in olive oil.
   Modern research has shown that the cynarin which is the bitter compound in the plant, can improve liver and gall bladder functions, and stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, as well as helping to lower the levels of blood cholesterol.
   Cardoons contain the B-complex vitamins, B1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 along with vitamin C, dietary fibre and are rich in potassium (so good for the muscles and nerves and their functioning, as well as for erectile dysfunctions), copper and manganese as well as other minerals which include calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. They also contain the phytonutrient, luteolin, silymarin, caffeic acid, among others which have antioxidant properties and serve to protect DNA from damage by scavenging free-radicals which can cause cancer.
  If you use these stalks it is best to remove their tough outer ribs and cut the inner ones into 3 inch (8cms) pieces then soak them in water in which you have mixed the juice of a lemon. This will prevent them turning brown as they do like avocados when exposed to the air. Pre-cook them in boiling water for about 30 minutes and serve them as you would any other boiled vegetable, or make a cheese sauce and bake them in it for 20 minutes until the cheese on top is bubbling and brown. When you cook them you won’t need to add salt as they contain sodium naturally. The roots and can be cooked like parsnips.
  In Portugal they use the flower heads (dried) as rennet in cheese-making, and they figure in the traditional Christmas meal too. The plant yields a yellow dye, and has possibilities for the biodiesel industry, especially in countries where it is invasive.
  You can find these stalks in markets in mid-winter through to early spring, so in previous times they were a vital source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy in the winter months. You can grow them too and some people just grow them because they are an attractive plant which can be used as compost when it dies back. If you grow it though, eat it as it is a shame to allow all those nutrients to go to waste. It has a pleasant nutty flavour, a bit like a Jerusalem artichoke and is more delicate than the globe artichoke, so you may like the cardoon even if you don’t like globe artichokes.

5-6 cardoon stalks, trimmed and cut as described above
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 ozs fresh mushrooms, sliced
handful coriander or parsley leaves, shredded
1 glass white wine
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

Boil the cardoons 20 minutes in the homemade chicken stock. Drain and reserve the liquid
Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onions and garlic until the onion is tender.
Add the mushrooms and pine nuts, stirring to make sure they are coated with the oil.
Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Add the black pepper and allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes, then add the strained cardoons, stir well and add the reserved liquid.
Now add the coriander or parsley leaves, and simmer uncovered for a further 10-15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to stand for about 30 minutes before serving.
Serve with Parmesan cheese.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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