An Edible Petiole: Four Reasons to Grow Cardoon

  • The edible portion, the leaf stalk or petiole, tastes like its sibling artichoke.
  • The form is dramatic—a bold architectural plant for the edible landscape.
  • Electric-blue flowers attract honeybees.
  • This giant perennial provides foliage and stalks for the compost pile.

Harvest Cardoon:

Cynara cardunculus is the botanical name of both cardoon and artichoke. If you grow cardoon as an edible ornamental, just harvest a few stalks in spring, the way you would harvest rhubarb. Let the perennial grow into its statuesque form. The early growth is tender while later in the season the stalks grow bitter. Let the flowers bloom as a bee crop but remove the spiky flower heads before they go to seed. In a few years the plant will be six feet tall.

Serious cardoon eaters, most of who live near the Mediterranean Sea, grow cardoon as an annual row crop planted on three-foot centers. Traditional growers blanch the crop in autumn 2 or 3 weeks before harvesting. Blanching deprives the plant of sunlight to reduce the crop’s bitterness. This process will not enhance the ornamental value, only the edible quality!

Here’s how:  In September or before autumn rains begin, pound a 5-foot stake into the ground close to the crown of each plant and hug the plant to the stake. Next tie twine to the base and spiral up to within six inches of the top. Or tie three separate pieces. Wrap with corrugated cardboard or heavy brown craft paper. Let the top of the plant peek out. Blanch for two or three weeks and then harvest the entire plant. A faster blanching technique  involves cutting roots on one side of the plant, pushing it over without uprooting and covering the plant with dirt.

If you love grey foliage in the garden, but are not interested in the edible petiole, consider this: The Royal Horticultural Society in England has tagged cardoon with their Award of Garden Merit. At Ecology Action Grow-Biointensive the plant has been recognized as a compost crop. A mini-hedge of mature cardoon grows in their Willits garden during the summer and provides carbon for compost piles. Permaculture gardeners like to plant it as an edge crop.

The trick is to harvest the plant before it goes to seed. If you do save seed, please do it responsibly, as escapees have become invasive weeds in Argentina, New Zealand, and parts of California.

Culinary Preparation: Although many traditional cardoon recipes are dairy-rich, Chez Panisse Café has served it as a marinated salad. Prevent the oxidation that turns the leaf stems brown by tossing them in water with lemon juice. Cut stalks to fit in a pan and boil for 15 minutes to remove the bitter flavor. Peel the ribs from large stalks.  Cut into pieces and toss with olive oil and vinegar and garnish with hard-boiled eggs.

2 thoughts on “An Edible Petiole: Four Reasons to Grow Cardoon

  1. I decided I need to keep track of these plants I’m not familiar with, so I started a notebook.

  2. Hi Steve, It is fun to learn new plants! For many years I have loved cardoon as a striking ornamental perennial; now I’m finally exploring more about it! Finding the plants that thrive where we live is one step toward reducing our carbon footprint. Maybe I discover I am mad for cardoon while you have a ho-hum response, but then you taste celeariac and add a new food to you diet!

    I bought cardoon once at a grocery store but it was brown and I didn’t research how to eat it. Boiling it removes most of the bitterness and leaves the sweet complex flavor of artichoke, providing much more to eat in a long petiole than a receptacle of a flowerbud. I wonder if the plants available in the USA have been field blanched? Maybe that cultivation technique removes the need for boiling? So much to explore. Oh, and that liquid from boiling cardoon would be great addition to a vegetable broth, or used for cooking grain or beans.

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