09 November 2013

Sunchokes, Jerusalem Artichokes are Helianthus tuberosus

Sunchokes, also called Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, and earth apple, are sunflowers with an edible tuber. There are about 80 species of Helianthus that include annuals, perennials, plants for dry woodlands and prairies, as well as plants for swamps.
 
Sunchoke native range
Helianthus tuberosus is native to North America.
 Vegetarians in Paradise says, "The Jerusalem artichoke is a tuber that grows underground like the potato but is harder to harvest because the tubers cling to the roots and become entwined. Cultivated varieties of sunchokes grow in clumps close to the main root or rhizome while wild ones grow at the end of root.
Like their family members of sunflowers, they can grow from 3 to 12 feet high with large leaves and flowers that are 1 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.
They grow well in almost all soil with the exception of very heavy clay soil, but do best in alkaline soil.
 And, they can become invasive.
Jerusalem artichoke tuber
 
Sunchokes are easy to grow from tubers that weigh about 2 oz. and have 2 or 3 sprouts emerging. Plant them deep, about 3 to 4 inches underground. They do best when planted in little hills for better water retention and to make harvesting easier. Plant them in the spring through early summer, and harvest them fall through early winter. Be aware that any tubers left in the ground that were not harvested will reseed themselves. Many farmers are reluctant to go into heavy production of the sunchokes because of their ability to take over and become a serious weed problem."

They spread by rhizomes and have rough, hairy toothed leaves that grow up to a foot long. The flowers that bloom in the fall are deep yellow daisy-like. Sunchokes are cold hardy in zones 7 to 9 and heat tolerant in heat zones 9 to 7.
 
  Our plant friend Russell Studebaker gave me a tuber and instructions to plant it 3-inches deep. The logical place for it was at the end of the garlic bed.
 
The instructions above and elsewhere say to plant them in the spring and harvest them in the fall but I only got my hands on it last week so it is being planted now.
 
 
According to NC State U. there are a few varieties to consider if you want to plant them.

Purdue U. gives the historical background, "Several North American Indian tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The explorer Champlain took Jerusalem artichokes from North America to France in 1605. By the mid 1600s it was widely used as a human food and livestock feed there."
 
"The artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new feed in a "new Jerusalem." A second theory is that the word Jerusalem is a twisting of the Italian word for sunflower-girasol. One additional explanation involves a 17th century gardener named Petrus Hondins of Ter-Heusen, Holland who was known to distribute his artichoke apples throughout Europe. Ter-Heusen was modified to Jerusalem in the United States. In recent years the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities."
Sunchoke planted at the south end of the garlic bed
 
 Of course, in France, Jerusalem artichokes are used to make alcoholic beverages - they are so chic.
 
IL Wildflowers page says this sunflower grows 9-feet tall!

Arrows point to petiole or leaf stem
 "A better name for this sunflower would be 'Indian Potato' because the native people of North America cultivated and ate the edible tubers, which are produced in substantial quantities. These tubers have fewer calories per gram than the familiar 'Irish Potato' (a South American plant), and are better for diabetics because the carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. However, the tubers can produce flatulence in some people. This sunflower can be reliably distinguished from other sunflowers by the partially winged petioles, which are ½" or longer on the larger leaves.

With the exception of Helianthus annuus (Annual Sunflower), the leaves of Jerusalem Artichoke are wider than other prairie sunflowers in Illinois. It also has stems that are covered with bristly white hairs, unlike Helianthus grosseserratus (Sawtooth Sunflower), which has smooth stems. The green bracts at the base of each flowerhead are usually wider than those of other sunflower species, which typically have linear-lanceolate bracts."

Winged petiole or leaf stem
  So, now we have one and in a year we will hopefully have a few to harvest and try on the table. 
 
 

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