Cynara cardunculus L., its innovative value and multiple utilization

The species Cynara cardunculus L. includes the two botanic varieties, the altilis DC (domestic cardoon) and the sylvestris (wild cardoon) and the sub species scolymus Hegi (globe artichoke). The particular interest for the productive potential of this species is related to the traditional use of the thickened receptacle for human food, to the possible alternative utilisation of the biomass and also the possibility to obtain, in Mediterranean environment, good yields even under low water supplies. For these reasons, our Institute carried out an intense research activity on its own wide collection of C. cardunculus. Among these researches, the AFLP's characterisation is also in progress. Some of the obtained results are worthwhile to note. As regards globe artichoke, good micropropagation techniques are already been optimised, in order to promote a development of a qualified nursery activity in this crop.
Moreover, others possible alternative utilisations of cultivated and wild C. cardunculus were explored. The production of dry biomass was noticeable (up to 30 t ha-1 in cultivated cardoon) and showed a caloric value of 17 MJ kg-1 of dry matter, suitable for paper pulp production. Root yielded an high total sugar content (up to 40%), with inulin, characterised by DP> 100, representing the 87% of total sugars. Good grain yields were also obtained. On average, dry grains contain 22% protein, 24% oil, 18% fibre and 4% ash. In particular, some cardoon genotypes showed an oil yield higher than 28%. The extracted grain oil has a fatty acid composition similar to sunflower and corn oil, so it could be used for human nutrition. Moreover, the high alfa tocopherol content guarantees stability against oxidation. The defatted flour is interesting as feeding, for the good quality and amount of proteins.
The research activity, carried out in collaboration with the Industrial Crop Institute of Bologna and Catholic University of Leuven, generated new significant knowledges, which may be directly transferred to the field workers. Results on biomass, seed and root for inulin production, already in press in scientific international journals, seem to be particularly promising, not only because the products were obtained under low input management, but also because they permit the valorization of autochthonous genetic resources, unexplored until now.