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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

28 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!

  3. Karen Dunaway Reeves says:

    I’m planting sunchokes this year for the first time, and I’m truly excited! I want to know if anyone had ever grown them together with ginger. Really I want to know (if i should, or should not) . I mean, they both require the same soil and growing both are slow. It’s a 25 gal smart canvas pot, so it’s huge… and i think it would be alright…yeah or ney ???

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Karen, I’m not sure why you think sunchokes are slow-growers but they aren’t! These are plants that could easily take over the universe. They multiply 5-10 fold in every growing season. My first year I planted 10 tubers in a container and since then (3 years later) I have more than I can grow/eat/give away. They might be able to share a smart pot with ginger the first year. But after that, they will squeeze the ginger out, unless you harvest 80% of the sunchokes every fall. Are you considering tropical ginger or perennial ginger, and where do you live? I ask because if you live someplace with cold winters and are thinking of growing tropical ginger as an annual, you’ll be fine. Otherwise…the sunchokes will out compete the ginger for sure.

    • Blaine says:

      There are between 200 and possibly 400 varieties of Sunchokes. I have three. One has stolons, the rhizomes that the tubers grow on, that are very short. This clusters the tubers very close to the stalk and form right on the root ball. Another has stolons that reach out around 10″. The third has stolons that reach out around 20″. Needless to say, the ones that spread 20″ in all directions spread very fast from year to year, unless contained and probably would not do well in containers. The ones that don’t spread very far would do nicely for containers, but, because they grow on short stolons or right off the root ball, their ends are susceptible to rot more-so than ones that grow on longer stolons.
      As to mixing them with Ginger, give it a try and let us know how it goes. Sunchokes are Allelopathic. That means that they also spread a chemical, like Walnut trees, Glassweed and several others that retard germination of competing seeds and restrict the spread of many rhizome plants. In my established patches, most grasses don’t spread in, Lambsquarters, if they germinate, only grow about 18″ tall. Strawberries however spread into the patches unhindered and Field Garlic holds its own with no problem. Perhaps Ginger will grow with it … or not. There’s one way to find out!

      • Ellen says:

        Interesting. My sunchoke tubers mostly grow close to the base of the plant, producing clusters of multiple tuber 6-8″ wide, but they also send out rhizomes that form additional tubers. The sunchokes are surrounded by Centranthus ruber, Mahonia, currants, and Thelosperma megapotamicum. I haven’t seen any adverse effects attributable to allelopathy. At least not yet!

      • Helen says:

        Ah I thought they all bloomed..they are not in very garden centre. So when I spotted them in a a fruit and vegetable shop I was deleted
        Helen

  4. Shelagh says:

    Just subscribed and so grateful for all these ideas!
    The Jerusalem Artichokes I planted some years ago are moving into the edge of the vegetable garden and I’m trying to keep up. Giving them away has been a small problem, as I’ve only recommended drying them for storage, sliced or grated to dry more quickly.
    I like the dried ones with eggs and in soups, and best of all (so far), drenched in roasted sesame oil and garlic with fresh herbs on pasta.
    I read somewhere that they regulate blood sugar, and wonder whether this is generally known and true for all varieties?

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Shelagh, I’ve also read that jchokes help regulate blood sugar, but I’m not a medical person and have no expertise in that area. I’m all about the flavor! Can you tell me more about your dried sunchokes drenched in roasted sesame oil and garlic on pasta? Do you rehydrate them first? Are they grated? I’m intrigued.

  5. Shelagh says:

    Hi Ellen:
    I’m not medically-trained either, but am interested in such things, and find the ideas of food-as-medicine add to the enjoyment. I’ll still love the artichokes for providing so much with zero care and attention, and their nutty taste when dried. To me, the flavour improves with drying. Nutty and a bit sweet.
    I usually do both grated and sliced batches, just spread out on some plastic grid racks and wrapped loosely in muslin to keep insects off. A food processor does the slicing or grating in minutes, so they just need a scrub. Every few days I open the cloth and stir them around a little. They dry quite quickly, and the slices are like chips.
    I use the grated form for the pasta because it goes into the twirls of the spiral shape I like, but the chips could be good with spaghetti. They are also good to add to salads and eggs and fish…
    As to prep:
    If I think of it early enough in the day, I put a handful or 2 of the grated dried artichokes into a dish, splash on enough sesame to coat the little bits, mix it around, cover and let steep. After a few hours, some oil is absorbed and they have a slightly chewy texture, which is great with the pasta. Fresh chervil and tarragon are wonderful with this, as is roasted garlic, basil, olive, pumpkin or other seeds and walnuts. Some salt and lemon is good, and it’s good cold or warm. The oil-mix is also a great starter for stir fry vegetables.
    It’s pretty versatile, and I hope that helps.
    I’ve also made a salt-fermented spicy condiment with the grated slices that was really good. Will look up that recipe. Thanks to those above with other ideas. Look forward to trying those.

    • Ellen says:

      I’ve never tried rooting cuttings of sunchokes, so I’m afraid I can’t speak from experience. If you try it, please let me know how it works.

      • Helen says:

        Yes they are in sunlight from sunrise around 5.30 am at the moment til about 6pm. About 5 foot gets it til sunset at 9pm. The temp to day is 36c with thunder storms ptodicted mid week. Yes I just boringly make soup.

    • Blaine says:

      You can cut them just like potatoes. Each piece must have a node like each piece of potato must have an eye. Plant them about 2″ deep in loosened soil in a good sunny location.

      • Ellen says:

        This is true, but I think Sandy was asking about a stem cutting. Without a piece of the tuber containing an eye, I’m not sure if it’s possible. Blaine, have you ever tried a simple stem cutting?

    • Blaine says:

      I’ve never tried a stem cutting either. I read where the top of an annual sunflower was grafted onto the root stock of a perennial sunchoke and the sunflower seeds yielded much more oil, but I’ve never seen where anyone has tried rooting a stem cutting. As it’s a perennial, that could be interesting to try with rooting hormone.

  6. Helen says:

    Hi I have JAs as a privacy screen this is my second year. Last year it grow to 10 foot. It is in sunlight from dawn til dusk. Alas no flowers what am I doing wrong. (refers to it as green shit 🤔)) This year they are growing well nearly 6 foot high we have had high temperatures of late in the late 20 s to low 30 s in Southern Scotland. I have ordered a pH meter to check the soil
    Regards
    Helen

    • Ellen says:

      Hi Helen, Sunchokes are late bloomers. Mine haven’t started yet and aren’t usually in full swing until September. Also, it’s not unusual for the plants to need a year or two before they flower. Hopefully you’ll see blooms in 4-8 weeks. A few questions: how much sunlight are they getting? (Sunchokes flower best in full, all day sun.) Are you growing them for food as well as for privacy? (They’ll produce tasty tubers even if they don’t flower.) I doubt if soil pH is your issue, although it’s always good to know what you’re working with. Please keep me posted.

    • Blaine says:

      There are at least 200 varieties in the US with possibly 400 worldwide. There are a few that bloom irregularly and some that don’t bloom. In west-central PA., zone 5, mine started blooming a bit spotty about a week ago. Maybe 1/4 of them are blooming now. I’ve got three varieties. Two are blooming spotty now, the third won’t bloom for up to three more weeks.

      • Ellen says:

        Blaine, I found this on a permaculture board, which jives with what you’re saying. The original post was written by Victor Johanson of Fairbanks, AK, and I’ve copied his text below so you won’t have to scroll through all the other posts on that page:

        “Stampede is usually considered the earliest of the named cultivars. I grew some here in Fairbanks back in the 80s and it bloomed the first year. I moved away, and they were gone when I came back eight years later. The last couple years I decided to try it again, so I got Stampede and about 10 other cultivars plus grew some from seed–nothing bloomed. I contacted Will Bonsall from the Scatterseed Project in Maine, and he confirmed that Stampede is his earliest. I got some from him, thinking that maybe what I got was mislabeled. I also read http://www.nordgen.org/ngdoc/plants/articles/Helianthus_tuberosus-Diversity_2010-1.pdf by Axel Diederichsen regarding the extensive collection maintained by the Canadian germplasm system. On pages 10-11 it is related that in 2008, a very cool year, only four accessions (of 160+) flowered. The paper also states that earlier flowering is associated with shorter plants and heavier tubers. I obtained three of these accessions and grew them this year. We had an extremely cool and rainy summer, and even though they were planted quite late, buds formed on two of them. The Stampede I got from Scatterseed looked different from the other one and appeared to be starting to form buds also. These observations lead me to believe that in a normal summer, at least some of these will bloom.”

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