Plant for the earth apples, the living root cellar, the bountiful biomass, and the perennial sunflowers!
Hardy from Zones 4-9.
The plant is not from Jerusalem and it’s not an Artichoke (though, interestingly, both are related to Daisies). This perennial root vegetable is from North America – from Canada over to North Dakota and down to Texas – and it’s in the Sunflower genus! Folks aren’t entirely sure where the common name comes from, though possibly the Puritans dubbed it because it grew prolifically in their so-called New Jerusalem. The nutty earthy flavor reminded a French explorer of Artichoke, so the name stuck. It’s gone by a few other names in its time, including Earth Apple and Topinambur in parts of Europe. A member of the Tupinambá tribe from Brazil visited the Vatican at the same time that the tuber made its Catholic debut. Since the 1960s, it’s often called Sunchoke.
Long before colonization, indigenous North Americans have been cultivating Jerusalem Artichoke as a root vegetable. The tubers are rich in potassium, iron, fiber, niacin, and phosphorus, with 2% protein and little starch. Instead, they contain inulin, which makes a lot of people gassy but converts into fructose when the tubers are stored for a while. As such, they help control blood sugar levels when eaten regularly, an important dietary consideration for folks with diabetes. They also help metabolize fat faster. Big tubers lose moisture quickly, so leave them in the ground or a cool moist place until you’re ready to eat them. They get sweeter in the ground with winter frosts and are delicious grated on salads. Otherwise, try roasting them like a potato, for which they’ve often been used as a substitute, or adding them to soups as a sweetener. In 2002 the Nice Festival for the Heritage of French Cuisine championed Jerusalem Artichoke as the “Best Soup Vegetable.” Might as well try it out! It was a regular part of French diets during Nazi occupation, when the plentiful tubers supplemented limited food rations.
We plant Jerusalem Artichoke in big patches on sunny borders or where we want to shade out grass. We plant it almost anywhere as long as we can see those gorgeous sunny flowers! We’ve also tried planting them along the streambank to control erosion, though we don’t plan on harvesting those tubers for food. We do, however, plan on harvesting other patches. It’s an easy plant to grow in climates where corn grows too. Each root can make 75 to 200 more tubers, a square yard can produce several pounds, and an acre can grow between 7-9 tons of tubers, and even more biomass. Jerusalem Artichoke has an incredible amount of green growth each year, good for mulching and adding to compost piles in Autumn. If you don’t plan on eating the tubers, just grow Jerusalem Artichoke for the astounding biomass or as forage for pigs!
We grow two varieties: an unnamed variety that grows 8-9 feet with bright yellow flowers and abundant tubers that we propagated from friends’ farm and a cultivar called Stampede, which grows up to 12 feet tall with tubers weighing almost half a pound.
We propagate our Jerusalem Artichoke from tubers in our backyard and streamside patches. We offer packs of 5 or 20 tubers, but let us know if you’re looking for more!