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Valentine.gr  

July 2003

Did you know that eating an artichoke in the 16th Century would be a scandalous adventure for any woman, because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac, and it was reserved for men only?

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)

Though it looks very much like a thistle and indeed has prickly elements like a thistle, the thistle-like artichoke is in fact a member of the daisy family. A Mediterranean plant, the artichoke, sometimes known as globe artichoke, produces large flowers that people love to eat. The artichoke grows tall, from 3 to 5 feet, with long lavish gray green leaves and tall stalks on top of which burst the spiky flowers. If allowed to bloom the top of the choke erupts in purple-pink glory.

According to an Aegean legend and praised in song by the poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zenus, who was jealour of her beauty, hurtled a thunderbolt towards Earth and transformed the recently elevated Goddess Cynara into an artichoke. 

It origin dates back to the time of the Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who wrote of them being grown in Italy and Sicily and was known to both the Greeks and the Romans. Dioscordes, a Greek physician, wrote about them at the time of Christ. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodistiac. In Ancient Greece, the artichoke was attributed to being effective in securing the birth of boys. In 77 AD the Roman naturalist Pliny called the choke one of the earth's monstrosities, but evidently he and his colleagues continued to enjoy eating them. One reads that wealthy Romans enjoyed artichokes prepared in honey and vinegar, seasoned with cumin, so that the treat would be available year round. 

North African Moors begin cultivating artichokes in the area of Granada, Spain, beginning about 800 AD, and another Arab group, the Saracens, became identified with chokes in Sicily. Artichokes were first cultivated at Naples around the middle of the 15th century and gradually spread to other sections of Europe. The artichoke was introduced into England in 1548 but apparently didn't make a huge splash there nor anywhere else except Italy, France and a few other southern European locations.

In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici, married to King Henry II of France at the age of 14, is credited with making artichokes famous. She is said to have introduced them to France when she married King Henry II in the mid 16th century. She was quoted as sayig, "If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street. Today young women are more forward than pages at the court." 

In the 16th Century eating an artichoke would be a scandalous adventure for any woman. At that time, because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac, it was reserved for men only. In fact, the artichoke was denied to women and reserved for men because it was thought to enhance sexual power. Fortunately such esoteric attitudes do not prevail in the 21st Century where both men and women are privy to the pleasures of the artichoke. However, there are places around the world where people have neither tasted nor seen the artichoke. 

French immigrants of Louisiana, and Spanish settlers of California brought the artichoke there in the 1600's but it didn't appear to take hold beyond individual gardens until its reintroduction in the 1920's. In 1922 Andrew Molera, a landowner in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, California, just south of San Francisco, decided to lease land previously dedicated to the growing of sugar beets to farmers willing to try the "new" vegetable. His reasons were economic-already artichokes were fetching high prices and farmers could pay Molera triple what the sugar company did for the same land. By 1929 artichokes were the third largest cash crop in the Valley. 

In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova "Whitey" (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the "Artichoke King," began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. These "artichoke wars" led the Mayor or New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare "the sale, display, and possession" of artichokes in New York illegal. Mayor La Guardia publicly admitted that he himself loved the vegetable and after only one week he lifted the ban.

Source:
http://www.hungrymonster.com/FoodFacts/ Food_Facts.cfm?Phrase_vch=Artichokes&fid=5952
http://www.whatscookingamerica.net/History/ArtichokeHistory.htm
http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch48.html

 

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Borojo - Alibertia patinoi - Borojoa patinoi
Butterfly Pea - Clitoria ternatea
Honey Flower - Melianthus major
Ombu - Phytolacca dioica
Lion's Ear - Wild Dagga - Leonotis leonurus
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Cow's Udder - Solanum mammosum
Miracle fruit - Synsepalum dulcificum
Akebia - Akebia quinata
Chilean Firebush - Embothrium coccineum
Caesalpinia - Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Welwitschia - Welwitschia mirabilis
Saguaro - Carnegiea gigantea
Schisandra - Schisandra chinensis
Monarda - Bee balm - Bergamot
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Calico Flower - Aristolochia
Daylily - Hemerocallis
Contorted hazel - Corylus avellana Contorta
Torch Ginger - Etlingera elatior
Mistletoe - Viscum album
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Firethorn - Pyracantha
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Almond - Prunus amygdalus
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