The flower bud of a garden plant that developed from the cardoon. A native of the Mediterranean area, the artichoke was held in high esteem by the Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages it acquired the reputation for being an aphrodisiac, and it became quite rare during this period. Catherine de Medicis was very fond of artichokes and brought them to France from her native Italy when she married the king of France. The artichoke was introduced into America by French and Spanish explorers.
The artichoke is widely cultivated in Italy, Spain, and France, which together represent over 80% of world production of this vegetable. It is also cultivated on a large scale in the western United States, particularly in Castroville, California.
The artichoke grows on a plant that stands 3 to 5 feet high and has indented leaves. It can be eaten prior to flowering; the edible parts of the plant include the heart of the bud and the bases of the leaves, which are actually bracts. The fuzzy choke at the centre, which would develop into a flower if the plant were allowed to mature, is inedible. There are over a dozen varieties of artichoke, differing in shape (although usually round and slightly pointed) and colour (dark green bordering on blue or violet). The only variety that can be eaten raw is the small purple Provencal artichoke, since it has an undeveloped choke. The artichoke grows best in warm climates, where it is a perennial; elsewhere, it is often grown as an annual.