The incidence of cardiovascular disease and endothelial dysfunction is low in the Mediterranean area, where the major proportion of daily calories comes from plant food, high in antioxidant polyphenols. It has been shown that a reduced production or enhanced inactivation of endothelium-derived nitric oxide (NO) is involved in the onset of endothelial dysfunction. We investigated the effects of Mediterranean wild plant, that is, wild artichoke and thyme, phenolic-rich extracts on NO release by porcine aortic endothelial cells (PAECs; by using indirect methods) and by cerebral cell membrane homogenates (by using direct NO detection). NO release by PAECs was significantly potentiated by 234% and 135% by wild artichoke and thyme extracts (10(-6) mol/L), respectively. Direct detection of NO release by brain membranes also showed significantly increased NO production after wild artichoke addition (+35.4%). Further, the release of another vasorelaxant factor by PAECs, that is, prostacyclin, was significantly increased by wild artichoke and thyme (10(-6) mol/L) (+269% and +190%, respectively). Investigation of the mechanism(s) of action of wild artichoke and thyme suggests maintenance of an intracellular reduced environment, as previously shown for ascorbate. Even though these data require in vivo confirmation, they suggest that regular intake of bioactive compounds from Mediterranean wild plants contributes to maintenance of proper vasomotion and to the low incidence of atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction recorded in the Mediterranean area.