This edible thistle is full of vitamins

November 12, 2009

by Michael Vandeveer
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Victoria County Master Gardener
Flower heads contain the overlapping leaves (bracts) and the heart of the artichoke.  These are harvested for consumption prior to the forming of a bloom.
When I was asked to write an article about growing artichokes, I tentatively agreed, with the disclaimer that I didn't know anything about artichokes other than how to eat them.

It didn't take much digging, however, for me to find a lot of information about this interesting vegetable and how it might become a lot more popular in Texas.

Artichoke History

The globe artichoke, the most commonly eaten variety, is believed to be native to the western and central Mediterranean lands. It was carried to Egypt and farther east some 2,000 to 2,500 years ago, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension online plant guide. When the Greeks and Romans obtained the plant, they began to grow, harvest and eat the plant in a different way.

The same species, known as "cardoon," was grown in relative darkness, so the undeveloped flower stalks would remain white and tender.

The artichoke belongs to the same family as thistles, sunflowers, lettuce and chrysanthemums. The modern plant looks like a large thistle.

The first record of the modern plant, used for food consumption, came from Naples in about 1400 A.D. It was around this time that the artichoke was exported to England, France and Spain. Its popularity in Europe was always greater in France and Spain than in England.

It is chiefly grown in two areas of the United States: California, settled by the Spanish; and Louisiana, settled by the French.

Anatomy of an Artichoke

Since the artichoke is a member of the thistle family, when we eat artichokes, we're eating flowers. There are several edible parts of the artichoke, including the leaves, used as salad greens and, more commonly, portions of the immature flower base.

This is harvested prior to the purple, thistle-like bloom appearing at the top of the head. This flower head contains both the bracts - the overlapping, exterior portions of the flower head and the heart - located at the center of the flower head.

Growing Artichokes

Artichokes can be grown here in Texas. The most common way to get started growing them is to obtain some sprouts or plants from your local nursery. They can be planted in either the spring or the fall.

Recommended for the Southwest, is the Texas Hill variety, chosen for its ability to perform in high heat and mild winters.

Artichokes are perennial and can be expected to survive from season to season.

However, to have the ability to plant different varieties, you might consider treating them as fall garden annuals, choosing varieties that are adapted to cooler climates along with choosing heat-tolerant varieties that can survive the summer as a perennial.

Choose a site that gets full sun and plant your sprouts/plants at least three feet apart on rows five feet from one another. You'll want to make sure the soil drains well.

Artichokes do best when the soil pH is 6.5-7.0. Keep the soil moist and fertilize as you normally do in your vegetable garden.

Harvest the artichokes before the buds start to open. They'll still be green and tight. Normally, the central bud ripens first, followed by the smaller ones on the side shoots.

If you let the crown continue to ripen, the purple, thistle bloom will appear.

At this point, the edible portions of the crown, the bracts and the heart will be too tough to enjoy.

If you want to try to propagate your existing artichoke plants, do so by using the sprouts that arise from the crown in the spring.

They will stay true to the plant that sprouted them. If you attempt to plant the seed from your artichokes, they will not stay true to seed.

Artichokes in Texas

Though the majority of the commercially-grown artichokes in the United States come from California, success with artichokes has been seen in test plantings by the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde over the past few years. The mild, cool winters of the Uvalde area seem to be conducive to commercial artichoke production.

In an article in the Southwest Farm Press, Daniel Leskovar, a vegetable physiologist with the Texas AgriLife Research Center in Uvalde, wrote, "The green globe and imperial star types gave the best results in their test plantings. Excitement for potentially developing the artichoke for increased production in Texas exists for several reasons."

Potential for Increased Production

Leskovar goes on to say that "Artichokes are high in health properties (they are a good source of vitamins C, K, folate, magnesium, manganese, copper and dietary fiber). They also have a high profit margin. A typical artichoke head (depending on size) sells for $1 to $3 each.

A single plant can produce up to six heads in a single growing season. Typically, 2,200 plants can be planted per acre. The purple flowers on the un-harvested heads can even be sold for commercial floral use."

Give Artichokes a Try

Why not add a new ingredient to your menu and home garden? Others in Texas have found success with this interesting and storied vegetable - and it's hard to beat a steamed artichoke loaded with garlic butter for an appetizer or side dish. For more information on growing artichokes go to and search the site for artichokes.
If left on the stem and not harvested, the crown will open with the plant producing a purple thistle-like bloom.

High in health properties, (source of vitamins and dietary fiber).

High in profit margin, ($1-$3 per head).

Multiple head production, (up to six in one season).

Purple blooms on un-harvested plant heads can be sold for commercial flower use.

Source: Daniel Leskovar/Texas AgriLife Research Center in Uvalde
This cross section of the artichoke shows the core of the plant with the edible end of the leaves, or bracts, embedded in the heart.
The purple thistle bloom will appear at the top of each flower head of the plant as the crown continues to ripen, and the edible parts of the head will become too tough to eat.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at