Saturday, June 6, 2009

Perennial Vegetable Profile: Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)

Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), are one of the most beautiful perennial vegetables one can have growing in your garden. Belonging to the sunflower family, the plant produces nutty tubers that to some are reminiscent of the taste of artichokes. Native to the Americas, native Americans called them sun roots and introduced them to the European colonists who relied on them as a staple during the early colonial period.

Sun chokes grow from tubers, similar to potatoes, but they produce sunflowers from these tubers as well (inedible) that can grow up to twelve feet in height, depending on the variety (there are over 200 varieties available). They are well adapted to almost any soil type except very heavy clay soil, but prefer a slightly alkaline soil. Sunchoke tubers are planted three to four inches under ground in the spring, and then harvested in the fall and early winter. These are a prolific perennial vegetable, and tubers left in the ground will reseed and spread the following year. In fact, they are so prolific in some areas they are considered something of a pest as they can be difficult to get rid of once they have established themselves in an area. Bees and butterflies do love the plant, which is an added bonus.

Sunchokes can be eaten raw in salads, used in stir-fry's sliced like water chestnuts, or treated like potatoes (baked, steamed or mashed). They have a slightly sweet nutty flavor, which some claim is improved by a day or two of refrigeration after harvest. They are suitable to grow in zones 4-8, and the tubers are widely available online. Some type 2 diabetics rely on the unique inulin produced by this perennial vegetable to help manage their diabetes as well. And in Germany, Jerusalem Artichokes are used to make a liquor called Topinambur.

You can find some great recipes using Jerusalem Artichokes here. If you are interested in purchasing the tubers online, there are many sources to choose from, but Jungseed is a reliable source to buy them from. Even better, try to get some tubers from a friend who is already growing them.

For even more information and articles about perennial vegetables, please return to the Perennial Vegetables Home Page.