The artichoke is a species of thistle, with the edible part being the flower buds before the flowers come into bloom (Wikipedia, nd).
Artichokes and artichoke extracts are considered safe in moderate amounts, although some people are allergic to plant compounds in artichokes and related species. People with the greatest risk of allergic reactions to artichokes are those who are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae and Compositae families, including ragweed, arnica, chrysanthemums, marigolds and daisies. In the event of an allergic reaction after consumption of artichokes, contact your allergist (Livestrong, 2012).
Artichokes are used in a variety of recipes. In the US, large globe artichokes are frequently prepared by removing all but 5–10 mm (0.2–0.4 in) or so of the stem. To remove thorns, which may interfere with eating, around a quarter of each scale can be cut off. To cook, the artichoke is boiled or steamed. The core of the stem tastes similar to the artichoke heart, and is edible (Wikipedia, nd).
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Here’s a handy guide on preparing and cooking an artichoke!