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Artichoke: Getting to the heart of a sluggish liver

Unlike some, I don’t mind spending the time needed to tear apart an artichoke because I know that at the end of the journey, that wonderful heart will be waiting. Yes, it’s small. Yes, you have to make sure you don’t ingest the thin canopy of spiny leaves that protects it. But I assure you, it’s well worth the wait.

It is also well worth the incredible health benefits. If you are suffering from high cholesterol, a sluggish or damaged liver, backed-up kidneys or are prone to developing gallstones, the mighty artichoke could prove to be your saving grace.

The parts of the artichoke considered medicinal include the leaves, root and heart, in that order. In the 1940s, scientists discovered “cynarin” (the active principle in the artichoke) which is mostly concentrated in the fresh leaves.



One of the most important digestive-related functions of the liver is its creation of bile. The average, healthy adult liver produces about two pints of bile each day, which is concentrated about 10 times and then stored in the gallbladder. Bile breaks down fats that are then ejected into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). From there, digested food goes through the small intestine and into the colon and finally out of the body.

There you have it: the perfect example of food and fat metabolism. But there are a lot of people who have a “sluggish liver” from eating processed foods, excessive fat, dairy and long-term use of drugs and alcohol. A languid liver starts a chain reaction of physical problems that include high cholesterol, constipation, arteriosclerosis and the formation of gallstones. And believe it or not, that foggy lack of clarity you may feel in your head could have a connection in the liver. It has been shown that when you get the blood, metabolism and bile flowing freely through the liver, all of these maladies can be corrected.



This is where the common artichoke can come into play. Studies have proven that after eating just one medium-sized artichoke, blood cholesterol drops. In addition, bile flow increases up to 60 percent, which really gets things moving in the digestion department. Eating an artichoke and/or drinking the residual water in which it was steamed acts as a superior diuretic, relieving excess water weight within hours. While artichokes are not as protective of the liver as the herb milk thistle, it still has some properties which have been found to revitalize a liver that has been damaged by alcohol abuse.

To prepare an artichoke, simply steam it for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the leaves are easily removed. If you own a pressure cooker, all the better, as this will retain the vitamin content and decrease the cooking time to 12 to 15 minutes.

To benefit from artichoke’s healing action year-round, try the liquid extract/tincture. The dose is 25-30 drops diluted in a half-ounce of warm water, 15 minutes before a meal.

If you suffer from bile duct obstruction, large amounts of artichokes can exacerbate the condition due to the fact that it rapidly increases the flow of bile. If you have gallstones, artichokes could cause colic. However, once the gallstones are expelled or removed, artichokes are a good addition to your diet to possibly prevent the future formation of stones.

This is the time of year to take full advantage of this seasonal vegetable and get to the heart of your digestive disturbance.

E-mail your questions to The Humorous Herbalist at writer8@sopris.net.

The information in this column is not meant to take the place of your physician, nor is it intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before using herbal therapy.


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