Cynara is the genus name for a group of approximately ten species of perennial flowering plants. As part of the Asteraceae family, the flowers of the various species of Cynara form thistle-like clumps on the ends of tall stems, often with edible flower-heads. The thistle-like flowers are generally purple in color. These perennials prefer to grow on sunlit slopes and the grasslands of the Mediterranean area, the Canary Islands, and the northwestern portions of Africa. A few of the more popular species of Cynara include the C. cardunculus, or Cardoon; the C. scolymus, or Globe artichoke; and C. humilis, or the wild thistle.
The various species of Cynara grow best in full sunlight, away from powerful wind gusts. This genus of perennials also prefers well-drained soil that is fertile. A few diseases and pests disturb this genus of plants, including gray mold, aphids, slugs, and root rot.
As tall, flowering plants, Cynara is often grown along the outer edges of flower beds. It attracts insects, such as bees and butterflies. In addition, the flowers are often used in dried, ornamental, flower arrangements. Generally, for optimal foliage, the flowering stems should be removed when they emerge during the warm summer months. Also, in frigid temperatures, the roots should be covered with a protective layer of mulch.
Some species of Cynara have uses beyond that of an ornamental flower. For example, the flowers and stems of the Cardoon can be steamed or fried, and then eaten. Some people claim the stems even have a flavor similar to that of steamed artichokes. In some countries in Europe, the enzymes from the Cardoon are used to coagulate cheese. The cheeses that are produced in this manner have an earthy flavor and are considered a delicacy.
The Globe artichoke is primarily what people purchase and consume when they buy artichokes from the grocery store. If left in bloom, the artichoke would have a purple thistle-like flower above it. When it is harvested, the artichoke can be steamed, sautéed, or fried. The leaves can also be seeped in boiling water and used to make an herbal tea.
Most species of Cynara have an active component called cynarin. In the homeopathic community, it is believed to promote the flow of bile. As a result, it is thought to help with digestion and improve the function of the liver and gall bladder. The oils of the plant are also thought to lower cholesterol.