Artichoke, or Cynara scolymus, is a perennial plant of the thistle or daisy family. It is eaten throughout many parts of the world as a delicacy, and its extract is used for several health benefits. Artichoke extract is taken from the long, serrated leaves at the base of the plant. This is the area of the plant that is most dense in biologically-active compounds, which are considered to be the health benefits of artichoke extract.
One of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, artichoke is native to Northern Africa, the Canary Islands and Europe. Evidence of artichoke cultivation as a food and health source dates back to ancient Egypt, but the extract did not begin to surface until 1934. Cynarin was the first form of artichoke extract to be discovered and used. At that time, it was believed that cynarin was the only active component of the plant. It was used primarily to lower cholesterol and stimulate the liver.
Since that time, other active compounds have been discovered and extracted from the plant. Artichoke extract now generally contains a full range of substances, such as luteolin, scolymoside and flavinoids, which are believed to improve health in several ways. Uses for the extract include cleansing the liver, aiding digestion and lowering cholesterol.
Artichoke extract is typically taken orally in either liquid or capsule form. There are usually several brands and potency levels of artichoke extract available. Some may only contain 3% luteolin, a compound to lower cholesterol, while others may contain as much as 15%. Choosing the best one for each individual depends on the person's health needs and preferences. Many health food, supplement or holistic supply stores will typically carry the extract.
Complexes which claim to carry artichoke heart may need to be researched. In some cases, a complex which contains artichoke extract will contain less than 5%, which is normally a large enough amount to be beneficial. Choosing the right supplement may require some research and the help of a nutritionist or doctor.
It is normally recommended that anyone allergic to artichokes or any other members of the daisy family do not use the extract without first consulting with a doctor. Simple allergy tests can sometimes be done, including using the extract on a small patch of skin to watch for possible allergic reactions. Or a health care provider may be able to do a professional allergy test to ensure the safety of using artichoke extract.