The thistle, also better known as an artichoke, is actually a beautiful flower. Artichoke flowers, prior to blooming, have been enjoyed for centuries because they have delicate flavor and pair easily with a variety of ingredients. The leaves surrounding the heart are consumed first; however, most consumers and restaurant foodies remove all of the leaves and go directly for the heart because it contains the most meat! The leaves of the artichoke, while so often unacknowledged as a prized part of the artichoke are loaded with many vitamins and health benefits. As the artichoke continues to grow in popularity in western countries, many consumers are beginning to discover the benefits of the artichoke in its entirety.
History of Artichoke Tea
Although originally native to Northern Africa, the regal artichoke found more cultivation in the Mediterranean region. Around 500 BCE, the artichoke was prominent on plates in Sicily and Italy. Trade within these regions and in Asia, brought the plant eastward. By the time the plants were imported to China and Asia, artichokes were valued for the heart and even the leaves. Fast-forward to today, artichoke tea is common in many parts of Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam.
Where the Tea is Derived
Several parts of the artichoke are used to produce tea including the roots, leaves and stem. However, the leaves from the artichoke head are the most common part used. There are various claims outlining the taste of artichoke tea and they range from bitter tasting tea to sweeter tea; both claims have validity. The flavor profiles of artichoke tea change, depending on which part of the plant is utilized to make the tea. The stem and the roots tend to produce a more bitter flavored tea. The leaves, however, contain a chemical called Cynarine. Interestingly enough, this chemical is unique to artichokes, and its name is derived from the Latin name for artichokes, Cynara cardunculus. Cynarine has the interesting effect of inhibiting the taste receptors on the tongue. This causes water and other liquids to appear sweeter than normal. Because of this, tea produced from the leaves of the plant take on a naturally sweeter taste.
Natural Health Benefits
The most common health benefit connected to artichoke tea is its ability to lower cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like molecule found naturally in the body. It has a waxy texture and serves an important biological function in the body. It helps the body produce vitamin D, hormones and aids in the digestion of food. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can result in several diseases, including coronary heart disease. Because of its physical texture, cholesterol can attach to the arteries in the heart, forming plaque inside of the arteries. The eventual result of plaque buildup is the increased potential for heart attacks and stroke.
Some studies have indicated that there is some evidence that artichoke leaf extracts can lead to lower blood cholesterol levels. While these studies have yet to yield fully convincing results for researchers, there is a strong indication that the extract can work, particularly when compared to placebo in clinical trials.
Artichoke tea has also been highlighted for its diuretic benefits. A diuretic is any chemical or compound that aids the body’s production of urine. While this may not sound like a positive, this is the way that the human body excretes many impurities in the body. Urine is a by-product of the kidneys, serving primarily to rid the body on soluble wastes. At times, the body may not excrete enough urine to fully rid the body of many of the impurities that it should. A diuretic will help increase the urine content so that the body gets rid of more toxins and undesirable compounds from the body during urination. This makes artichoke tea an excellent drink for those whose urine tends to have higher water content (a fact that can be determined by the lightness of the urine color), and for those who have kidney disease.
There are other possible health benefits that are connected to artichoke tea. There are some claims artichoke extract or artichoke tea can result in healthier skin. There are also some claims that the tea can help in the production of bile, which is a necessary compound in digestion.
Preparing the Tea
Artichoke tea can be made individually from the plant or from the leftover leaves from artichokes that were purchased from the grocery store. There are two main ways to prepare artichoke tea. One is by boiling the entire head in its original form with leaves fully intact, in a pot of water for 2-4 hours. After that, allow the head to simmer in the water for another 2 hours. Or you can choose to remove the outer leaves from the heart and boil only the leaves and the core. Artichokes naturally float in water. The goal is to boil it so long that the fully intact artichoke/artichoke leaves sink to the bottom of the water. This is a good indication that the outside water has fully penetrated the leaves of the plants, and that the desired nutrients have been fully extracted. The water should change to a light yellow color by the time you are finished boiling the tea.
The teas flavor can be enhanced if desired with a bit of lemon or honey, and can be stored in mason jars or canisters with a lid that firmly seals. A good ratio is to use 1 gallon of water per artichoke. If the boiling time is too long, the majority of the water will evaporate. After boiling for two hours, we recommend adding additional water.
Artichoke tea has been enjoyed in various parts of the world for a long time, but hasn’t been as widely popular in the Western world. Nonetheless, the tea is fairly easy to prepare, and provides a healthy drink option with an added blast of nutritional value.
How to Prepare Artichoke Tea with Fresh Artichokes:
- Boil the entire artichoke in a pot of water for 2-4 hours until it is submerged in the water.
- Cut the artichoke apart and remove the heart and fuzzy choke. Once removed, boil the leaves and the core of the artichoke.
- To enhance the taste of the tea, we suggest adding a bit of honey or lemon.
- Store the tea in mason jars or canisters with a lid that is firmly sealed.