by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Despite the name, Jerusalem artichokes are not indigenous to Jerusalem not are they a type artichoke, although they are in the same plant family. The Jerusalem artichoke is grown as a flower or for its food value and is hardy between USDA zones 3 and 9 and more than likely, thus, all across the UK.
Jerusalem artichoke, which also goes by the name girasole and Jerusalem sunflower, or sunchoke, is a large plant, growing 6 to 10 feet in height, with bright yellow flowers, when you ever get the flowers to come up (still waiting for them).
It is somewhat coarse in appearance but was originally cultivated by Native Americans for its nutritious tubers, which contain no starches, only carbohydrates called inulin (not to be confused with insulin).
Sunchokes are delicious whether eaten raw (nutty flavor) or roasted with other root vegetables in the oven – just don't eat too many at one sitting. If boiled they become mushy, but make a nice addition to potato in mash potato dishes. As an aside, inulin is an important source of fructose for the food industry.
The tubers are sometimes used as a substitute for potatoes as they have a similar consistency, and in their raw form have a similar texture, but a sweeter, nuttier flavor; raw and sliced thinly, they are fit for a salad. The carbohydrates give the tubers a tendency to become soft and mushy if boiled, but they retain their texture better when steamed.
The reason for the advice not to eat too many in one sitting is that inulin cannot be broken down by the human digestive system, which can cause flatulence and, in some cases, gastric pain.
The common sunflower belongs to the same genus Helianthus and like other sunflowers, the seed heads are a source of food for birds.
Jerusalem artichoke spreads via tubers and seeds and is known to be weedy or invasive and thus are best grown in large containers where they cannot escape into the “wild”, so to speak. Some allotment associations in the UK have been known to reprimand members for growing this weed without even understanding the value of the Jerusalem artichoke.
While the flower seeds – if ever you manage to get flowers – are valuable source of food for the birds it is reckoned by some gardeners that one should cut the stalks and stop them from ever developing a flower and seed head.
Not that that problem has ever occurred on my garden as, as said, flowers have, so far, not appeared on my sunchokes.
Sunchokes can be left in the ground during winter and are a great source of carbohydrates when potatoes are scarce and have to be used sparingly.