The spiky and feral cardoon is a curiosity to some gardeners, but if you take a moment to consider this long-lived perennial it can be a bold sculptural element to your garden. Considered a weed in drier climates for its adaptability to drought, I love the cardoon for its beautiful form in the garden – give it lots of room – as this perennial vegetable will consume whatever space you provide it. Large, silvery, soft, serrated foliage, with 6-foot tall stalks, topped with a beautiful 6-inch thistle-like flower, it can be a head-turning specimen in the garden.
One might question planting this large prehistoric-looking “creature” in the garden when space is at a premium, but the additional draw for the gardener is the cardoon’s attraction to bees that swarm the purple flower heads in late summer for nectar. As with most things in permaculture practices, we’re always on the lookout for multi-functional plants, and this is one of them – beautiful, a food source, and a pollinator feeder.
Sometimes called an “artichoke thistle” the cardoon is a distant relative of the artichoke and a delicacy in Mediterranean cooking. High in potassium, cardoons are only edible when cooked. To prepare the cardoon for cooking, trim off any leaves or thorns, and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove the indigestible fibers. Place cut pieces of stalk in cold water with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Cardoons can be braised, sautéed, boiled in soups and stews, or dipped in batter and deep fried. Depending on the age of the stalks, they can take up to an hour to get soft and tender enough to eat.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually has gone through the process of preparing this “delicacy”. For now, this gardener will remain a fan of its visual interest in the landscape.
Ceres Edible Landscaping is a social enterprise of the Cowichan Green Community that provides organic horticultural services across the Cowichan Region. We provide garden consultations, planning and design services, garden cleanups or regular maintenance. Call Nora at 250.748.8506 for more information.