The globe artichoke is a perennial plant grown for its edible flower buds or as a decorative plant. This member of the thistle group generally grows 3-4 feet (90-130 cm) tall and 5-6.5 feet (150-200 cm) wide and has long, greenish blue leaves with silvery tones that can reach approximately 2.7 feet (82 cm) in length. Although the product of a globe artichoke plant is widely considered a vegetable, it is actually a flower bud that, when left on the plant, produces large, purple flowers that measure roughly 7 inches (18 cm) wide. Once the flowers bloom they are inedible, but if harvested, much of the bud can be consumed.
Ranging in diameter from approximately 3-6 inches (8-15 cm), the bud of a globe artichoke has a surface covered in green, triangular shaped, thorny outer petals. These thorns are responsible for the plant's classification as a thistle. Underneath these outer petals are white and/or yellow inner petals that protect the artichoke heart resting at the base of the bud just above the stem. Further protecting the heart is a fuzzy mass called the choke that sits immediately above the heart and is inedible. While the heart is the meatiest part of the globe artichoke bud, the base of the petals and the stem can also be eaten.
Artichokes are generally steamed or boiled to prepare them for consumption. They are generally eaten from the outside to the center. Typically, a person takes off the petals individually, dips them in sauce, and pulls them through his or her clenched teeth in order to scrape off the tender flesh at the base. After the leaves are gone, the choke can be thrown away and the heart and inner stem can be removed and eaten. The buds produced by both varieties of globe artichokes, Green Globe and Imperial Star, are generally considered to have a high nutritional value. One medium artichoke has a great deal of fiber and folic acid but contains less than one gram of fat and around 60 calories.
The globe artichoke most likely originated in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. It has been widely cultivated in Italy, particularly Sicily and Naples, as well as in England and other southern European countries along the Mediterranean Basin. While Italy, Spain and France have historically been the largest producers of the globe artichoke, the United States has also been producing them since the 19th century. Originally cultivated in both California and Louisiana, California eventually became responsible for nearly 100% of globe artichoke production in the U.S.