The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food. The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds and their stems when harvested before the flowers come into bloom. The plants usually bear several flowers. Once the flower blooms, its bud changes to a coarse, barely edible form. The uncultivated or wild variety of the species is called a cardoon. It is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region.
It grows to 1.4–2 m (4.6–6.6 ft) tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery, glaucous-green leaves 50–82 cm (20–32 in) long. The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8–15 cm (3.1–5.9 in) diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portions of the buds consist primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, known as the "heart"; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke" or beard. These are inedible in older, larger flowers.
The naturally occurring variant of the artichoke, the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), which is native to the Mediterranean area, has records of use as a food among the ancient Greeks and Romans. In North Africa, where they are still found in the wild state, the seeds of artichokes, probably cultivated, were found during the excavation of Roman-period Mons Claudianus in Egypt. Varieties of artichokes were cultivated in Sicily since the classical period of the ancient Greeks, the Greeks calling them kaktos. In that period the Greeks ate the leaves and flower heads, which cultivation had already improved from the wild form. The Romans called the vegetable carduus (whence the name cardoon). Globe artichokes are known to have been cultivated at Naples around the middle of the 9th century. Further improvement in the cultivated form appears to have taken place in the medieval period in Muslim Spain and the Maghreb, although the evidence is inferential only. Names for the artichoke in many European languages today come from medieval Arabic الخرشوف al-khurshūf via late medieval Spain.