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Jerusalem artichokes

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jerusalem Artichokes (aka Sunchokes, aka Helianthus Tuberosus)

Let’s get this clear right from the start: Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem. They are beautiful sunflowers, that not only brighten up your landscape, but also provide a tremendous edible bounty. If you’re a forager who also likes to garden, this is the plant for you. Growing from four to ten feet tall, sunchokes have classic, yellow, daisy flowers and tasty tubers. Three physical characteristics of their above-ground parts make them easy to differentiate from other sunflowers:

1) The ray petals at the center of the flower are yellow, not black or brown,

Jerusalem artichoke flower

2) the leaves feel like sandpaper (no way to show you that in a photo), and

3) the leaves are joined to the stem by winged petioles. Petiole is another word for leaf stem; notice how it gets wider (wing-shaped) as it approaches the leaf blade.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichokes are a gateway food for beginning foragers. You can buy the tubers for sale as vegetables in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and you can also find them as ornamental plants at garden centers. There’s no difference between the tubers sold in different venues, although most people who grow them as ornamental garden plants never realize they’re also edible.

Jerusalem artichokes are aggressive growers. If you grow them at home, do yourself a favor, and dig up at least half of the tubers after the first frost. Not only will they grow better that way (after being thinned and divided), but this will also prevent them from taking over the universe. Here’s an example of how quickly they multiply: I planted 8 tubers in a container last spring, and earlier this week I harvested more than 60 edible tubers from that same container. And that’s not counting the tubers I planted back in the ground.

Sunchokes can be harvested from fall to spring, as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid, making them impossible to dig. From spring to fall, when the plants are in active growth, the tubers are smaller, less firm, and less tasty, because the plants are drawing on the reserves of nutrition stored in their tubers.

It’s important not to harvest sunchokes before they’re ripe, or their starch (inulin) might cause flatulence. (Dare I mention that some people call them Jerusalem Fartichokes? I guess I do dare.) That’s why most people wait until after the first frost. If you live someplace frost-free, wait until late October to harvest, just to be on the safe side. Thorough cooking also reduces the risk of excessive gassiness. Don’t let my warning deter you from trying this delicious food. I’ve never had a problem with them, but I feel it’s my duty to let you know it’s a possibility.

People who expect j-chokes (this plant has a lot of nick names) to be a potato substitute may be disappointed. The texture of a j-choke will never be light and fluffy like a russet potato. But the flavor of Jerusalem artichokes is excellent, and here are a few ways to use them that highlight their flavor and makes the most of their unique texture:

1)  Fully ripe Jerusalem artichokes are sweet and crisp when raw; slice them thinly into salads or add sunchoke matchsticks to a tray of crudités.

2)  When baked, sunchokes become almost liquid inside. They can also be cooked in a crockpot as part of a soup or stew.

3)  Boil the tubers in milk, purée with a little butter, salt, and pepper. You’ll have a smooth, creamy side dish.

4) Make roasted sunchoke soup. It’s fall comfort food.

5) Puréed sunchokes make a superb soufflée.

6) Use grated sunchokes instead of carrots in this delicious sunchoke cake.

7) Try making oven baked sunchoke chips.

Jerusalem artichokes

7 comments

    • Ellen says:

      Not that I know of. I’m not an expert with medicinals, but I’ve taken a few medicinal plant courses and I’ve never heard of anyone using the petals. Still, to be absolutely sure, I’d check with an authority on the subject. I’m all about the flavor and the food!

    • Blaine says:

      I haven’t found any historical or scientific record, only hearsay that the Native Americans made tea from the leaves and the flowers. The leaves of mine always have powdery mildew so I’ve never tried them, but I’ve eaten the flowers of the eastern varieties and made wine from them. The western varieties will grow seed and their flowers are spiny and have a nasty resinous taste. The flowers of the eastern varieties never seed. They taste like the roots but stronger. Some varieties are tender enough to toss raw in salads, some are so tough only a goat could chew them! When I first boiled some flowers for wine the smell was so familiar. My wife came home and asked me why I was cooking squash … that was it! They resemble squash when boiled or steamed.

  1. Michelle Reers says:

    Can you eat the leaves? I know with sunflower as long as you blanch them to remove any unhealthy bacteria, which they tend to carry, you can eat the leaves.

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Michelle, I don’t know! It’s hard to imagine eating the leaves, which are VERY rough and sandpapery, but it’s possible the texture would be fine after cooking. Steven Barstow (Around the World in 80 Plants) says the young stems are edible, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about eating the leaves. Please let me know if you find out.

  2. Blaine says:

    I’ve ground raw dehydrated chips in a food processor and made flour that’s much like Buckwheat flour. You have to mix it with wheat to get it to raise and it’s best mixed with other flours for flat breads. Mixed with pizza dough stiffens the crust up nicely. Some raw chips tossed on the pizza before it goes into the oven make a nice crunch and flavor change.
    I made wine from tuber broth. It was very stout for a drinking wine, but it made a decent cooking wine. I make wine from flower broth that’s good straight or blended with fruity wines.
    I’ve tossed them into jars of pickled beets and eggs. WOW! We can most of ours as pickles and relishes and we prefer them to cukes!
    Worldwide there are at least 200 varieties. I have three I’ve gathered locally in west-central Pa. Two are nice mild tasting, good any which way while the third one has a super strong turnipy-potatoey-Sunflower seed flavor that stinks up the kitchen when they’re cooked. They are so strong just a dash in soups, stews or roasts is plenty. You’d either like them or hate them.

    • Ellen says:

      I’ve also made flour from dehydrated chips, but never thought about making wine…nice idea! This is such a versatile tuber, and I’ve tried loads of ways to use them. But I love them so much as a mash, I can barely bring myself to eat them any other way!

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