It blooms like a flower but it’s eaten like a vegetable. No idea why for centuries it has been considered as aphrodisiac. Yes, artichoke has a very special content, but we could not find anyone from its constituents that could be linked to the endorphins stimulation or to the sexual hormones production.
Maybe because scraping the flesh from buttery globe artichoke leaves between your teeth is pure gastronomic porn? Or maybe because of a lovely, sensual and sexual girl Cynara (“Cynara” is artichoke’s botanical name) from a Greek myth, who was transformed into a stunningly beautiful flower by furious god Zeus? Who knows?

Because of their tough exterior, artichokes take some careful preparation. But your efforts will reap nutritional rewards — the veggie is a good source of folate, dietary fiber, and vitamins C and K. Artichoke protects the liver and lower cholesterol. It also has diuretic qualities.
The total antioxidant capacity of artichoke is one of the highest reported for vegetables. Cynarine is a chemical constituent in Cynara. It inhibits taste receptors, making water (and other foods and drinks) seem sweet. Artichoke contains the bioactive agents – apigenin and luteolin.
Native to the Mediterranean area, artichoke was used as a food among the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, and were cultivated by Sicilians. In the 15th century artichoke became widely spread in Italy. “They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg … and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup” wrote Le Roy Ladurie in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc.

Legend of Artichoke

Because of their tough exterior, artichokes take some careful preparation. But your efforts will reap nutritional rewards — the veggie is a good source of folate, dietary fiber, and vitamins C and K. Artichoke protects the liver and lower cholesterol. It also has diuretic qualities.
The total antioxidant capacity of artichoke is one of the highest reported for vegetables. Cynarine is a chemical constituent in Cynara. It inhibits taste receptors, making water (and other foods and drinks) seem sweet. Artichoke contains the bioactive agents – apigenin and luteolin.
Native to the Mediterranean area, artichoke was used as a food among the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, and were cultivated by Sicilians. In the 15th century artichoke became widely spread in Italy. “They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg … and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup” wrote Le Roy Ladurie in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc.

Legend of Artichoke
“Lesbia” by John Reinhard Weguelin, (1878)

Known for her insatiable appetite for both food and romance, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), who at the age of 14 married to King Henry II of France, is credited with making artichokes famous.
From the “Book of Nature” by Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo in 1576, artichoke “has the virtue of … provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.”
17th century French writer and sexologist Dr. Nicolas Venette reported that Swedish women who were feeling neglected in the bedroom would serve their husbands artichokes in an effort to increase their desire and stamina.
The Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew in Henry VIII’s garden at Newhall in 1530. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants.

“Zeus and Hera” by Annibale Caracci, 1597

According to the Greek myth, the first artichoke was a beautiful young mortal woman named Cynara who lived on the Aegean island of Zinari. One day Zeus (King of all Gods) was visiting his brother Poseidon (God of the Sea) he spied Cynara who was bathing on the shores. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus instantly fell in love and seduced her. He was so pleased with the girl that he decided to make her a goddess so she could be closer to his home on Mount Olympus and Zeus would meet her whenever his wife, Hera (Queen of all Gods), was away.

Cynara agreed. However, Cynara soon missed her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. Zeus discovered it and enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into an exquisite spiky purple blossom; a spectacular flower to match her beauty. The plant we know as the artichoke.

Artichokes were considered an aristocratic vegetable and were known in history as ‘food for the Gods’. Because of this Greek myth they were also considered an aphrodisiac. Although ancient artichokes were very pretty and the flower very striking, their thorny exterior demanded that they be isolated. As a result of Zeus’ resentment, Cynara remained untouched for hundreds of years and appreciated by no one. Zeus hoped no one would attempt to search beyond the tough fibrous thorny leaves to find her sweet, sensuous heart. Contrary to his belief, and due to humans’ curiosity and hunger, they did attempt to taste this striking, thorny vegetable only to be rewarded with its delicious flavour.
An English poet, novelist, and short-story writer, often associated with the Decadent movement, Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867 –1900) dedicated his beautiful poem to Cynara:

To Cynara

Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae
(I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara – Horace)
LAST night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to you, Cynara! in my fashion.
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long;
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! The night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! In my fashion.

By Ernest Dowson, 1907

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