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Cynara - L.

Common Name Cardoon
Family Asteraceae or Compositae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Stony or waste places and in dry grassland, usually on clay[50].
Range S. Europe.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (1 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (5 of 5)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Cynara Cardoon

Cynara Cardoon


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Cynara is a PERENNIAL growing to 2 m (6ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from August to September, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map



Edible Uses

Flower buds - raw or cooked[33, 105]. A globe artichoke substitute[183]. The flower buds are a bit smaller than the globe artichoke and so are even more fiddly to use[K]. The buds are harvested just before the flowers open, they are then usually boiled before being eaten. Only the base of each bract is eaten, plus the 'heart' or base that the petals grow from [K]. The flavour is mild and pleasant and is felt by some people to be more delicate than the globe artichoke[K]. Stems - cooked and used as a celery substitute[2, 27, 33, 46, 61]. It is best to earth up the stems as they grow in order to blanch them and reduce their bitterness[4], these blanched stems can then be eaten cooked or in salads[105, 132, 183]. In Italy raw strips of the stems are dipped into olive oil[183]. We find these stems to be too bitter when eaten raw[K]. Young leaves - raw or cooked. Eaten as a salad by the ancient Romans[183]. Rather bitter[K]. Root - cooked like parsnips[27, 105, 183]. Tender, thick and fleshy, with an agreeable flavour[183]. The dried flowers are a rennet substitute, used for curdling plant milks[105, 183].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The cardoon has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels[238, 254]. The leaves are anticholesterolemic, antirheumatic, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, hypoglycaemic and lithontripic[7, 21, 165]. They are used internally in the treatment of chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis and the early stages of late-onset diabetes[238, 254]. The leaves are best harvested just before the plant flowers, and can be used fresh or dried[238].

Other Uses

The plant is said to yield a good yellow dye[4], though the report does not say which part of the plant is used.

Cultivation details

Prefers a light warm soil and an open position in full sun[37, 200]. For best results, this plant requires plenty of moisture in the growing season and a good rich soil[16, 27, 33, 37], though another report says that it is drought tolerant once established[190]. Plants grew very well with us in the hot and very dry summer of 1995, though they were looking very tatty by September[K]. Tolerates most soils including heavy clays of both acid and alkaline nature, especially when grown in heavier or more spartan soils[200]. Plants are reasonably wind resistant[200, K]. This species is hardy to about -10°c[187]. Plants are more likely to require protection from winter cold when they are grown in a heavy soil[190]. Wet winters can do more harm than cold ones[K]. At one time the cardoon was often grown for its edible stems but it has now fallen into virtual disuse[132]. There are some named varieties[183]. It is a very ornamental foliage plant and makes a very attractive feature in the garden. The leaves are long lasting in water and are often used in flower arrangements[233]. Recent taxonomic revisions (1999) have seen the globe artichoke being merged into this species. However, since from the gardener's point of view it is quite a distinctive plant, we have decided to leave it with its own entry in the database under Cynara scolymus[K]. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[233].

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Seed - sow early spring in a greenhouse. Germination is usually quick and good, prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions during the summer. It would be prudent to give the plants some winter protection in their first year. The seed can also be sown in situ in April. Sow the seed 2cm deep, putting 2 or 3 seeds at each point that you want a plant[1]. Protect the seed from mice[1]. Division of suckers. This is best done in November and the suckers overwintered in a cold frame then planted out in April. Division can also be carried out in March/April with the divisions being planted out straight into their permanent positions, though the plants will be smaller in their first year.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Artichoke; desert artichoke; European cardoon; globe artichoke; scotch thistle; Scottish thistle; Spanish artichoke; wild artichoke; wild cardoon. Spanish: alcachofa; alcaucil; cardo; cardo de comer. French: artichaut commun; carde; cardon d’Espagne. Russian: artišok ispanskij. Arabic: al harshuff. England and Wales: march-ysgall. Finland: Isoartisokka. Germany: artishocke; gemüseartishocke; gemüse-artishocke; kardone. Italy: carciofo. Netherlands: kardoen. Portugal: alcachofra; cardo. Spain: card; card comestible; card comú; herbacol. Sweden: kardon.

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Africa, Algeria, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Canary Islands, Chile, China, Cyprus, Europe, France, Greece, India, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Mediterranean, Morocco, New Zealand, North Africa, North America, Paraguay, Portugal, South America, Spain, Tasmania, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, USA.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

This plant can be weedy or invasive. Native to southern Europe and North Africa, it has been widely introduced and is recognised as invasive in parts of Australia, the USA, Chile and Argentina. In California, it is categorized as a Most Invasive Wildland Pest Plant [1d].

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

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