By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012
Issue: October, 1984
Everybody loves sunflowers. Even though most of us conjure up a picture of them planted in a row in the flower or vegetable garden, some species also grow wild.
In fact, they are native to America and flourish in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were discovered by the Indians who dug the tubers and found them to be an edible vegetable. This species of sunflowers with edible tubers is the Jerusalem Artichoke. It's more than just another pretty flower, it's food!
The tubers are hardy and survive harsh winters in the ground to send up new shoots in the spring. If dug though, they do not keep well for extended periods of time.
The incredible thing about Jerusalem Artichokes is that you can do practically anything with them. You can boil them with butter and serve like potatoes. You can slice them and make crisp pickles like you would do with cucumbers. You can also peel, slice them thin and serve them raw in a tossed salad. They are crunchy and have a taste described as, "Something like a cross between a 'tater and a turnip."
The Jerusalem Artichoke flower is only a few inches in diameter, has bright yellow petals and a cone shaped center. It does not produce the big edible seeds other sunflower species do. There may be as many as a dozen or more blooms on each plant. The stem is coarse and woody. The leaves grow at junctions of the stems. The plant is around six feet tall.
Jerusalem Artichokes are easily grown and thrive even in poor soil. They're a little trouble to dig, as the tubers grow six or eight inches (sometimes more) down in the ground. They are so hardy that you can hardly kill them out. If you miss digging a tuber or two, you will have a whole new crop in the spring. Keep this in mind if you are considering planting them in a limited space.