The cardoon ( Cynara cardunculus ), also called the artichoke thistle is, like artichoke, a thistle in the sunflower family . It is a naturally occurring species that includes the artichoke globe, and has many cultivated forms . It is native to the western and central Mediterranean region, where it was domesticated in ancient times.
The wild cardoon is a stout herbaceous perennial plant growing 0.8 to 1.5 m (31 to 59 in) tall, with deeply lobed and heavily spined green to green-gray tomentose (hairy or downy) leaves up to 50 cm (20 in) long, with yellow spines up to 3.5 cm long The flowers are purple-purple, produced in a large, globose , massively spined capitulum up to 6 cm (2 in) in diameter.    
It is adapted to dry climates, native to an area of Morocco and Portugal east to Libya and Greece and north to France and Croatia ;  It may also be native to Cyprus , the Canary Islandsand Madeira .  In France , it only occurs in the Mediterranean south ( Gard , Hérault , Aude , Pyrénées-Orientales , Corsica ).  It has become aninvasive weed in the pampas of Argentina,  and is also considered a weed in Australia and California .    
In cultivation in the United Kingdom , this plant HAS Gained the Royal Horticultural Society ‘s Award of Garden Merit .  [ verification needed ]
The two main cultivar groups are the cardoon ( Cynara cardunculus Cardoon Group, syn. C. cardunculus var. Altilis DC), selected for edible leaf stems, and the artichoke ( Cynara cardunculus Scolymus Group, sometimes distinguished as Cynara scolymus or C. cardunculus var . scolymus (L.) Fiori), selected for larger edible flower buds. They differ from the wild plant in larger size, with much less spiny, and with thicker leaf stems, and larger flowers, all characteristics selected by humans for greater crop yield and easier harvesting and processing.  They are fully interfered with, and are fully interfered with, but only have a limited ability to form hybrids with other species in the genus Cynara . 
The earliest description of the cardoon may come from the fourth-century BC Greek writer Theophrastus , under the name κάκτος ( Latin : cactus ), the exact identity of this plant is uncertain.  The cardoon was popular in Greek , Roman , and Persian cuisine , and remained popular in medieval and early modern Europe. It also became commonplace in the vegetable gardens of colonial America , but fell into fashion in the late 19th century and is now very uncommon. [ quote needed ]
In Europe, cardoon is still cultivated in France ( Provence , Savoy , Lyonnais ), Spain , and Italy . In the Geneva region, where Huguenot founds 1685, the local cultivar Silver from Geneva(“Cardy”)  is considered a culinary specialty. “Before cardoons are sent to the table, the stalks or ribs are whitened, together with wrapping them round with straw, which is also tied up with cord, and left so for about three weeks”. Cardoons are also common in northern Africa, often used in Algerian or Tunisian couscous .
Cardoon stalks can be covered with small, almost invisible spines that can cause substantial bread if they become lodged in the skin. Several spineless cultivars have been developed to overcome this.
Cardoon requires a long, cool growing season (about five months), but it is frost-sensitive. It also typically requires substantial growing space per plant, so it is not much grown where it is regionally popular.
While the flower buds can be eaten much as small (and spiny) artichokes , more often the stems are eaten after being braised in liquid cooking. Cardoon stems are for instance part of Lyonnaise cuisine (cardoon au gratin). Only the innermost, white stalks are considered edible, and cardoons are usually prepared for the purpose of protecting the leaf from the sunlight for several weeks. This plant was traditionally done by burying the underground plant, thus, cardoon plantations in Spain are often formed by each other’s surrounding earth planting, the earth covering the stalks.  In modern cultivation, the plant is usually wrapped in black plastic film or other opaque material.
The flower buds of wild cardoons are still collected and used in southern Italy and Sicily .  In Spain and Portugal , the flower buds are aussi employed in Cheesemaking : the pistils of the cardoon flower are used as a vegetable rennet in the making of Some cheeses Such As the Torta del Casar and the Torta de la Serena cheeses in Spain , or the Queijo of NisaNisa and Serra da Estrela cheeses in Portugal.
Cardoon leaf stalks, which look like giant celery stalks, can be served steamed or braised, and have an artichoke-like flavor with a hint of bitterness. They are harvested in winter and spring, being best just before the plant flowers.  In the Abruzzo region of Italy, Christmas lunch is traditionally started with meatballs (lamb or, more rarely, beef), sometimes with the further addition of eggs (which scrambles in the hot soup – called stracciatella ) or fried chopped liver and heart. 
The cardoon stalks are considered in Spain , particularly in the northern region of Navarre , where they are grown in large quantities.  In Spain, cardoons are simply prepared by adding simple sauces such as almond sauce or small amounts of jamón ; they are sometimes combined with clams , artichokes , or beans as well.
Because of their seasonality (from November to February), are the staple of the Christmas dinner in Navarre and the surrounding regions; for the same reason, they are usually preserved, usually in water or brine , so they can be eaten all year round.  Cardoons are an ingredient in one of the national dishes of Spain, the cocido madrileño , a slow-cooking, one-pot, meat and vegetable dish simmered in broth.
In the US, it is rarely found in the grocery stores but is available in some farmers markets in May, June, and July. The main root can also be boiled and served cold.  The stems are also traditionally served at St. Joseph’s altars in New Orleans.
Cardoon is one of the herbs used to flavor Amaro liquor, which may be called Cardamaro .
Cardoons are used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production. In Portugal , traditional coagulation of the curd links entirely on this vegetable rennet . This result is in the form of Serra da Estrela and Nisa .
The cardoon is also grown as an ornamental plant for its imposing architectural appearance, with very bright silvery-gray foliage and large flowers in selected cultivars. 
Cardoon has attracted recent attention as a possible source of biodiesel fuel. The oil, extracted from the seeds of the cardoon, and called artichoke oil , is similar to safflower and sunflower oil in composition and use. 
Cardoon is the feedstock for the first biorefinery in the world converting the facilities of a petrochemical plant in Porto Torres , Sardinia , providing good biomass and oils for the building blocks of bioplastics .
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