Photo by: Zoe Helene © 2008

Artichoke Leaf

Common Name

Artichoke Leaf

Botanical Name

Cynara scolymus


Globe Artichoke
Artichoke Leaf
Cynara scolymus
Globe Artichoke
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Watch "Artichokes: Detox Diet" on Fox News

Watch "Artichokes: Detox Diet" on Fox News
Artichokes are high in fiber, potassium and calcium. But the Medicine Hunter tells us how they can also detox your body...

What Is It?

Artichoke leaf derives from the common globe artichoke, a widely consumed vegetable cultivated by both the early Greeks and Romans. One of the oldest cultivated plants, artichoke is native to Southern Europe, North Africa and the Canary Islands. 1 Artichoke is a large herbacious perennial which produces a “globe” of edible leaves and a fleshy edible heart. The leaves of artichoke contain a primary compound known as cynarin, which among its other properties improves liver and gall bladder function, and lowers serum cholesterol. 1,2,34,5 Artichoke has long been used as a digestive.

Medicinal History

Since antiquity artichoke has been employed as a bile stimulant and diuretic. As a traditional medicine, artichoke has been used primarily for enhancing liver function. 5 Among traditional healers, artichoke has been used to treat chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis and symptoms of diabetes. 3

The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded artichoke as a valuable digestive aid and the relatively rare plant was reserved for consumption primarily by the elite. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the artichoke was consumed primarily by the royal and the rich.

In traditional European medicine, the leaves of the artichoke were used as a diuretic and as a "choleretic" to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder.

In the early 1900’s, French scientists began to investigate the traditional medicinal uses of the artichoke plant. Somewhat later, Italian scientists isolated a compound from artichoke leaf called cynarin. From the 1950s to the 1980s, cynarin was used as a drug to stimulate the liver and gall bladder and to treat elevated cholesterol. Since that time, cynarin has been supplanted by other drugs.

Habitat & Cultivation

Artichoke is cultivated in temperate areas in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The “globe” is harvested at peak size, and then is used either for food purposes or for preparation of artichoke-based medicinal products. In the United States, Castroville California, south of Monterey, is the primary center of artichoke cultivation. Artichoke hearts are significant in Mediterranean cuisine, and are often preserved in vinegar.

How It Works

Artichoke leaf increases bile production, protects the liver, reduces cholesterol, promotes urination, and stimulates appetite. These activities are attributed to the compounds cynarin and chlorogenic acid. According to Jim Duke’s phytochemical database, cynarin lowers cholesterol, protects the liver, helps to regenerate the liver, and enhances overall liver function. It is also diuretic, and relieves indigestion. 2 The antioxidant chlorogenic acid, which also lowers cholesterol, is anti-inflammatory, stimulates bile production, protects the liver and enhances overall immunity. 2 HerbalMed, Bruneton, LeungFoster) Artichoke’s promotion of bile appears to be its most significant attribute. Bile is a fluid manufactured in the liver and stored in the gall bladder, and plays a significant role in digestion. As a result of the various activities of artichoke’s compounds, artichoke is a beneficial digestive.

Contemporary Uses Approved by Authoritative Bodies

Germany's Commission E approves the use of artichoke leaf for "dyspeptic problems." Dyspepsia generally refers to indigestion, including stomach discomfort, and unease in the GI tract. 6

The African Pharmacopoeia indicates artichoke leaf for liver dysfunction. (HerbalMed)

Potential Risks

Safety issues and concerns

Artichoke leaf is not been associated with any significant side effects, and no restrictions on its use are suggested during pregnancy or nursing.

Contraindications – based on conditions and medication intake, etc.

• In case of gallstones, use only as directed by a physician. 5
• Do not use if there is obstruction of bile ducts. 5

Potentially harmful drug interactions

• None known

Allergy precautions

• Artichoke leaf may cause contact dermatitis. 1

Usage Tips

Germany's Commission E recommends 6 g of the dried herb or its equivalent per day, usually divided into 3 doses of 2 grams each. 5,6

If you are using an artichoke-based extract or other preparation, follow usage directions on the label.

Product Choosing/Buying Tips

If the option is available, choose artichoke leaf products which are certified organic.

Science Update

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 143 individuals with elevated cholesterol, artichoke leaf extract significantly improved cholesterol readings. 7 Total cholesterol fell by 18.5% as compared to 8.6% in the placebo group; LDL cholesterol by 23% vs. 6; and LDL to HDL ratio decreased by 20% vs. 7%.


There are no controversies regarding the use of artichoke leaf.

Fun Facts/Trivia

In Europe, Artichoke was historically considered an aphrodisiac food, though this use appears baseless.

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd ed., (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996). 42-44

2. Agricultural Research Service, Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/

3. Bown, Deni. The Herb Society Of America Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. (1st ed., (New York: Dorling Kindersley,1995). 270-271

4. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed., (Paris: Lavoisier Publishing 1993). 218-219

5. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J (eds). Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. 1st ed., (Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications. 2000). 10-12

6. Blumenthal M, Busse W, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS (eds.). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. S. Klein, R.S. Rister (trans.). 1st ed., (Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. 1998). 84-85

7. Englisch W, Beckers C, Unkauf M, et al. Efficacy of Artichoke dry extract in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneimittelforschung. 2000;50:260–265.