JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE, Helianthus tuberosus

Jerusalem Artichoke Plant

My first experience with the Jerusalem artichoke was really different. I had never ever heard of, or seen, a plant called Jerusalem artichoke. Now, if they had called it sunflower artichoke or sunflower or sunflower potato or a Canadian potato, I would have understood. But, this plant is not from Jerusalem and it is not an artichoke!

Anyway, when we first moved to Leeds in Southern Utah, we had a nice, big, well-mulched garden. A neighbor on the next block brought over a five-gallon bucket and it was full of what looked like little sunflower plants. He said everyone should grow some of these plants because you could eat the roots and they are very good.

I thought to myself, “Oh sure, these are artichokes all right. Even I know what an artichokes looks like, only they don’t look like this. I’ll bet this guy wants me to raise a bunch of wild sunflowers as a joke.” I thanked him for his consideration and assured him that I would take real good care of his plants.

Now these plants did not have tuber roots. I planted them in two rows on the edge of the garden as a windbreak. I watered them and weeded them like the rest of the garden. I dug one up to try to find the tubers roots, but no tubers. As they got bigger, they got a nice yellow ray flower on top. I smiled to myself when I thought of the joke in which I was participating.
Late that fall, I thought I should pull or dig them up. The first plant was more than ten feet tall. It was too tough to pull, so I started to dig. Would you believe I got a five –gallon bucket almost full of those tubers? They were white and beautiful and tasted different; kind of like water chest-nuts.

I called my neighbor and thanked him again for the “artichokes.” He told me some ways you prepare them. The first batch I steamed, then blended them. They tasted great with seasoning. I sliced and shredded some in a salad. I talked to anyone that knew about this strange plant, including the produce manger at the supermarket. He told me a little more about this Jerusalem artichoke and said if I had any extra, he would be glad to buy them from me. I took him about eight big buckets full.

The Jerusalem artichoke closely resembles the sunflower, but the center is dark with about twenty-four petals. The artichoke flower is smaller, as a yellow center with about twelve petals. Also, the Jerusalem artichoke grows tuber on its roots like potato. These tubers are bulbs about the size of a thumb and grow together in a flat cluster. The Jerusalem artichoke needs moisture to produce its tubers. For this reason, it only grows wild in regions where the ground is moist and mulched, like around the Great Lakes and in the South.

There is little history on the Jerusalem artichoke, but in Brazil, they grow Jerusalem artichokes to make alcohol to run their cars. One old author says it came from around the Holy land, but most say it is a native of North America. The Native Americans were growing them when the Pilgrims arrived in America. In the journal of Lewis and Clark, they told how an native American woman, who was their cook, secured some of these tubers that the gophers and squirrels had stored up for the winter.

The tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke contain inulin and levulin. These are carbohydrates that do not convert into sugar in the body. That is why they are very good for people with low blood sugar. Jerusalem artichokes are high in vitamins and minerals, yet low in calories. They are delicious, cooked or raw. They can be gathered in the wild or planted and grown in a garden. It’s really too bad we don’t use them more. We should plant Jerusalem artichokes in some remote moist areas and let them grow until we need them. But meanwhile, plant a few roots in your garden. You’ll be glad you did.

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