The Jerusalem artichoke, a large, potato-shaped tuber, is characterized by its sweet nut-like flavor. Contrary to popular notion, it neither tastes nor looks like the green or globe artichoke, and is not even related to it botanically.
Jerusalem is actually a corruption of the Italian girasol, meaning “turning to the sun,” and this artichoke is really a prolific member of the Sunflower family.
Jerusalem Artichoke Culture
Jerusalem artichokes grow in almost any type of soil that gets a little sun-shine, including sandy soil. They are free from disease, highly productive and completely frost-hardy, but spread very rapidly, and unless cultivated with some care, will become trouble-some as weeds. For this reason, it is best to give them an out-of-the-way planting a reasonable distance from other vegetables or flowers. To check spreading, dig roots in late fall or early spring and thoroughly remove them.
Planting artichoke tubers is very much like planting potatoes, and is done from cut pieces each having a seed or “eye.” Unlike potatoes, this frost proof vegetable can be set out in the fall as well as early spring. A good location may be along the garden edge where the six-to eight-foot-tall artichokes won’t overshadow other plants. They are also useful where their screening effect and large, colorful blooms will improve the landscape. (Some grow to heights of a modest 12 feet or so!)
In two rows, plant one medium piece per hill, a foot apart, in two or three-foot rows. In beds, set tubers four by four feet apart. As indicated, plants multiply quickly and soon choke out any venturesome weeds. Mulching is a good idea in row plantings, and compost applications maintain desirable fertility—although soil and climate extremes won’t stop this persistent plant.
With the arrival of spring, tubers left in the ground should be dug either for eating or replanting. If an increased supply is wanted, some may simply be left to multiply.
Native to the Americas, Jerusalem artichoke is cultivated for its fleshy tubers which are fine, nutritious and low-starch substitutes for potatoes.
A 25-foot row will supply the average family for one year.
Jerusalem Artichoke Nutritional Value
The artichoke is 100 percent starchless. It stores its carbohydrates in the form of insulin rather than starch and its sugar as laevulose the way most healthful fruits and honey do. It has practically no caloric value. Because of these facts, medical authorities strongly recommend it as a substitute for other carbohydrates on the diabetic’s menu, and in the diet of all who should or must restrict their starch and caloric intake.
The Jerusalem artichoke offers a good source of some minerals and vitamins (particularly potassium and thiamine)—a result of its being a plant-world union of tuber roots and luxuriant sunflower growth.