What in the world is a cardoon?

Have you ever heard of a cardoon?

I certainly didn’t know what a cardoon was– (a kind of cartoon? dragoon? vinagaroon? baffoon?)— until plant expert Dena Cowan at Mission Garden explained it to me. I had been oooing and ahhing over what I thought was a gorgeous “ARTICHOKE” plant growing in the Mission Period huerta garden plot there. She explained that it was a CARDOON–first cousin of artichoke and differing only slightly. She told me that while artichokes are grown for their delectable flower buds, the cardoon is grown for its edible leaf petioles and giant leaf veins! Tia Marta here to share what I learned–and what YOU can learn at our lovely Mission Garden when you see cardoon in person!

Inquiring further, I learned from an amazing Mission Garden volunteer, Jerome West, that actually the artichoke is a domesticated variety of the wild cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), native to the Mediterranean region and brought to the Southwest by missionaries. He told me that Homer recorded cardoon in ancient gardens in the 8th century BCE and Pliny the Elder mentioned ‘carduus’ growing in Classical Carthage and Cordova. This plant has been feeding people for a long time!

So I took on the challenge of learning to cook cardoon. Each leaf can be enormous, like 12-18″ long or more and widely lobed. The leaf petiole–its attachment to the stem–and the fat vascular tissue that continues through the leaf are the parts that are not only edible but flavorful and nutritious –bigtime.

Some prep is needed before you fix any recipe. Be sure to slice away any tough fibers, the way you might do with mature celery. Then chop and soak in lemon juice. I discovered online some helpful instructions–here is the best I found: https://foodandstyle.com/prepping-and-blanching-cardoons/ .

I fixed a surprise soup with red onions and pine nuts (believe it or not). Here’s another sensational soup recipe for Zuppa di cardi found online: https://memoriediangelina.com/2019/02/23/zuppa-di-cardi-cardoon-soup/ .

As for nutrition, check this: Cardoon is rich in good electrolytes–potassium, magnesium, calcium, plus Vit.B-6.

Cardoon (and artichoke) thrive particularly in our Sonoran Desert winters because they are attuned to the Mediterranean regime of winter rainfall. (Hopefully we shall have a good season of equipatas).

We need to grow more cardoons. Come see Mission Garden’s cardoons which are sporting tall drying flower stalks right now. AND plan to attend the Mission Garden Plant Sale coming up soon on Saturday, September 28, 2021, 8am-12noon. There might be a cardoon for sale or seeds for growing your own. A cardoon in your landscape will provide glorious visual texture and rich gray-greenery in your view-shed –not to mention good food when it is time to trim!

6 thoughts on “What in the world is a cardoon?

  1. Yes to Cardoon! This is more commonly known in Italian cuisine and is called Cardone. My family makes it breaded, fried or baked in olive olive oil and a little butter. Squeeze a bit of lemon and a dash of salt on top and oh my it’s to die for!!! We all fight over the last portions! Tastes similar to the artichoke bottom but a bit more firm and melts in your mouth.

    I do wish more people knew of this as it’s not easy to find. Can be found in some specialty markets where foodies shop. When I was a kid growing up in SF Bay Area there were a lot more Italian immigrants and it was a more common sight in grocery stores. It seems to have been almost forgotten.
    It does take some extra work to prepare it, but it’s well worth it in the end!


    • Thanks for weighing in, Caroline. Tia Marta is off on an adventure so I’ll respond for her. I, also, had never heard of a cardoon but gardeners are growing them at Mission Garden here in Tucson where they are dedicated to some heritage crops that are wonderful but have somehow fallen out of favor. Last year I took home some ribs but I don’t think I prepared them properly. I need another opportunity and more instruction. Hope you have good luck with a plant.


  2. Castroville, the Artichoke Capital of the World, is not far from here. However, cardoon is quite rare. I have seen a few big specimens in abandoned gardens, where it seems to have naturalized decades ago. It can get quite large, and looks quite similar to artichoke. Actually, there is a big specimen living on an embankment of Highway 1, just north of Watsonville. It looks striking. It is not my favorite vegetable though. I am not impressed with the flavor. In cultivation, the foliage is typically bundled and wrapped in newspaper and twine. That process elongates the leaves, and keeps them pale and succulent.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.