Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are a pretty cool crop to grow. Not at all related to globe artichokes, they’re actually a member of the sunflower family.
Not only will your family enjoy the nutrient rich and easy to grow sunchokes, the livestock on your homestead will, as well.
It would be difficult to argue that another vegetable plant exists that is easier to grow or is capable of producing a 200 pound per plant yield.
Once you get the Jerusalem artichokes in the ground, there is nothing more you need to do until harvest time – which can be in as soon as 90 days or you can allow the plant vegetables to grow underground for up to a whole year before digging them up.
Table of Contents:
What Are Jerusalem Artichokes?
Jerusalem artichokes (or sunchokes) are a tuber vegetable plant. A tuber is a root vegetable that grows underground like potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, or sweet potatoes. A tuber is the enlarged section of the vegetable plant’s stem.
The tubers that grow underground are the edible part. They’re kinda like a knotty potato. What’s great about root crops and tubers is that they are easy to conceal and make a really good survival/guerrilla gardening plant.
They grow wild in some places, or can be planted in the wild for future forage (they need full sun to thrive). These guys also spread like crazy, and come back year after year with no further effort on your part.
The more you harvest, however, the better the plants will be the following year. You’ll get bigger tubers if you keep them thinned out.
Far too many folks have either never heard of Jerusalem artichokes or think they are either mere weeds or just a pretty wildflower bush. As a survival homesteading friend recently said to me, “Jerusalem artichokes are the invasive weed you need to plant”.
Do not let the term “invasive” scare you off, fellow homesteaders. I prefer to think of Jerusalem artichokes like I do honeysuckle bushes and wild blackberry bushes.
Sure, they will spread into every space available to them, but the end result is an awesome source of sweet food and of natural home remedy ingredients.
The only maintenance you will ever need to do when growing sunchokes is to cut them back if they outgrow the area you set aside for them, otherwise they will thrive for years to come.
If you want to increase the amount of food you can grow on your homestead without adding copious amounts of hours to your gardening chores, the ultra hardy Jerusalem artichoke plant is for you.
Once you get the tubers planted into the ground, you can simply forget all about this highly disease- and insect-resistant plant until time to harvest.
Jerusalem Artichoke Facts
- Sunchokes closely resembled ginger in looks, but boast a texture that is similar to that of water chestnuts.
- Jerusalem artichokes have a deliciously sweet yet pleasantly nutty taste, and crisp.
- The inside flesh of the tubers is an ivory white, much like a potato. One the outside, the root vegetables range in color from dark white to orange-brown.
- They are rich in an array of vital nutrients, especially potassium. Just one sunchoke tuber can have 643 milligrams of potassium. They actually have a higher percentage of potassium and fiber than any other vegetable plant that is native to North America.
- The tubers from this perennial vegetable plant typically range from 2 to 4 inches in size.
- Jerusalem artichoke skins are thin and can often be rubbed away with a bit of friction after washing instead of peeling like a potato.
- Sunchokes are a member of the sunflower family, and can grow to heights of 15 feet tall during a single year and a member of the Helianthus genus.
- Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten either raw of cooked no matter when they are harvested.
- This root vegetable plant can be harvested after 90 days, but boast seasonal peaks during both the spring and fall – when the tubers offer the sweetest taste.
- Sunchoke tubers are comprised of a high percentage of inulin but no other carbohydrates – which is why they are often referred to as the “diabetic’s potatoes”. They are also commonly known as sunroots, topinambours, and earth apples.
- Sunchoke petals and leaves closely resemble those on a sunflower plant, but are decidedly smaller. The flower petals do not bloom until the very late summer.
History of Jerusalem Artichokes
Sunchokes are one of a very small group of vegetable plants that were grown naturally in America and sailed back across the ocean with “New World” explorers. In the United States, Jerusalem artichokes may have originated along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
More than two hundred years ago, tribes of Native Americans planted the root vegetable they called “sunroots” along their seasonal migratory trails to ensure their tribe members would always be able to quickly and easily feed themselves when on the move.
Exactly how this root vegetable plant got its unusual name is relatively unclear. Jerusalem artichokes have no connection to the city they are named after, and are definitely not a member of the artichoke family.
The name may have stemmed from a 1617 Catholic Church Pope taking a liking to the tubers and having plants from the garden gifted to his friends so they too could cultivate them for a delicious treat.
Sunchokes were referred to as “Girasola Articiocco” by the Pope and his friends in Rome. Girasole is Latin for sunflower. It is believed that the pronunciation of the Latin phrase sounded enough like Jerusalem artichoke that the tubers’ new name was born.
It was not until the sunchokes of Rome made their way into the kitchens of famous French chefs that their global popularity began in the18th century.
Louis Eustache Ude, a popular French chef at the time, created a Palestine soup recipe that was so well received by patrons it is still a popular dish in the region today.
In the kitchens of common folks who grew or foraged Jerusalem artichokes, they were often roasted or used in various stews and meat casserole style dishes.
Sunchokes saw a distinct resurgence in popularity during World War II in the war-torn country of France. Food was so scarce at the time citizens made the filling and nutrient rich Jerusalem artichokes a dietary staple.
Why You Should Grow Sunchokes
Any plant that is capable of regularly producing between 75 and 200 pounds of vegetables should be highly considered for inclusion on the homestead.
Add into the mix the delicious taste, hardiness, and easy to grow manner of Jerusalem artichokes, and there really doesn’t seem to be any downside to cultivating a big crop of these root vegetable plants.
Sunchokes are recommended for cultivation in USDA Agricultural Zones 3 through 9 – they can thrive almost anywhere. If you live in an area that surpasses the proper heat recommendations, Jerusalem artichokes can still be grown but will likely produce a smaller yield, and should be cultivated in pots that can be moved indoors during the hot weeks of summer.
They are exceptionally drought-resistant plants that can still grow in abundance in even poor soil.
Jerusalem artichokes will simply reseed themselves if left to their own devices, making replanting entirely unnecessary if you allow some of the fast growing and spreading plants to “go to seed”.
If you grow sunchokes along the edge of livestock fencing or inside of a temporary fence that can be opened up in the late fall once all of the grazing pasture is gone, the tubers can be a great source of free feed for a host of common homesteading livestock.
Animals that tend to love the above ground portions of the Jerusalem artichoke plants include goats, horses, sheep, cattle, rabbits, poultry birds, donkeys, and hogs. If allowed, hogs will dig up the tubers and dine on them until they are gone, as well.
Jerusalem Artichoke Nutritional Value
If you need one more reason to buy some sunchoke tubers to plant in the garden this year, allow their intense nutrient value to fill that bill. Jerusalem artichokes are not only comprised of high percentages of both potassium, fiber, and inulin but also contain a significant amount of protein, electrolytes, and trace minerals.
These tubers actually have a larger percentage of protein than soybeans, other commonly grown type of bean varieties, corn, or wheat. Even the edible leaves and stems of the sunchoke plant contain more protein than corn. The greenery on the plant is not unpleasant to eat and has a 28% protein level.
It is the prebiotic value of inulin that makes sunchokes a frequently used base ingredient in natural home remedies. This property might bolster the growth of a “good bacteria” known as bifidobacteria. This bacteria may aid in preventing potentially harmful bacteria from forming, and could inhibit the growth of a variety of carcinogenic enzymes in the process.
The plant also boasts decent levels of thiamin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and pyridoxine – all of which are B complex vitamins. Consumption of sunchokes could help in decreasing blood pressure due to the effect the tubers have on sodium consumed into the body.
There are three commonly grown varieties of Jerusalem artichokes.
- Sugarball – This variety is smaller than the other two on this list, but is the most popular in taste for use when roasting.
- Fuseau – This type of Jerusalem artichokes often produce in excess of 200 pounds of vegetables during a single growing season. They also have a more smoky taste when either roasted or used in recipes that involve cooking. Fuseau sunchokes are larger than sugarball and have a smoother texture – making them easier to peel.
- White French Mammoth – These Jerusalem artichokes are the largest of those on the list, and are often more knotty or knobby in texture.
How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes
- Do not plant the root vegetable plants until the final threat of a hard frost has passed. In the recommended growing zone regions, sunchokes are most often planted between the middle of March through the early weeks of April. Sunchokes can be started indoors in a container and transplanted.
- Till the soil at least once to not only break up the hard ground but also to mix up the quality nutrients in the soil.
- Each tubers must possess an “eye” when it is placed in the ground for it to grow – just like potatoes.
- The tubers must be planted at least 4 inches deep, but no deeper than 6 inches in the ground.
- Space each planted Jerusalem artichoke 12 inches apart.
- When growing sunchokes in rows, place them five feet apart to allow for maximum growing – yield ratios.
- The tubers will be ready for harvest in 90 days or can be left growing the ground for up to 12 months before digging out and using. If the tubers are mushy, throw them away and do not eat or feed to livestock.
- Do not plant sunchokes in rows alongside any common garden crop except corn. Their height and bushy nature would cast too much shade onto other plants and inhibit their growth (unless you need to find shade to grow specific anti-sun herbs and medicinal flowers).
- Native Americans used their sunroots as part of a companion planting crop for both corn and pole beans.
- If cultivating Jerusalem artichokes in pots, they will not grow as tall but will still produce tubers if the container has a minimum of a 5-gallon capacity.
- If you are experiencing an unseasonable cold snap or are planting sunchokes in a region with a climate colder than the recommended growing zone, mulch heavily around the young above ground growth of the plants to protect them from becoming chilled.
Destructive Insects and Diseases
As already noted, Jerusalem artichokes are exceptionally hardy and rather difficult to kill. I have not personally seen or even heard about a plant disease or bad bugs – including those vile Japanese beetles, that do more than stunt plant growth, and cause a reduced yield.
If your sunchoke plants or tubers look as if they are showing signs of browning, rotting, or molding, get rid of them and do not eat.
Timelapse of Our Sunchokes
Check out the progression of our Jerusalem Artichokes as they were grown and harvested this year…
May: The Jerusalem artichokes that I planted last Spring have emerged, and are a little over a foot tall.
August: The Jerusalem Artichokes are humongous! They’re taller than the chicken coop now! I noticed that aphids love the plants, but don’t seem to cause too much damage.
September: The Jerusalem Artichokes are blooming, but the lower leaves are beginning to die off. I should have measured how tall these plants got. As you can see, they’re huge!
The tubers spread by probably 3x their original area in one year. Be warned, they can become invasive!
Here’s a close up of what the blooms look like. You may find them growing wild where you live.
December: The stalks have all dried up and the plants have died back for the winter. I like to let the tubers go through a few good frosts before I dig them up to eat. This way they’re less starchy and have a better flavor.
The plants look like nothing more than dead sticks in the ground.
Here’s the same area after I’ve pulled up all of the dead stalks. They break off very easily at ground level. Once they’ve been removed, you can’t even tell anything was ever there. All that remains is a ground cover of chickweed.
By the way, I’ve heard that dried Jerusalem Artichoke stalks are great to use with a bow drill for making fire by hand. Never tried it, but it’s worth noting.
See? It just looks like a weedy garden spot. Nobody would ever know there’s food under there.
But there is!
Using a shovel, I easily uprooted several small tubers with just a few digs. I don’t want to dig them all up yet because they don’t store well at all. After being out of the ground for more than a day they start to get really rubbery and deteriorate extremely quickly.
I’ll keep them stored right where they are in the garden through the winter, and dig them as we want to eat them. Whatever is leftover will grow back again in Spring and multiply throughout next year.
Here’s one of the tubers dug up and washed off a little. See how knotty they are? Some are worse than others. It’s a good thing you don’t have to peel them ’cause that would be a huge pain. Just scrub them off really well with a stiff produce brush. (I’ve had this brush for years and love it.)
Jerusalem Artichoke Harvesting Tips
The harvesting time of these root tubers is incredibly flexible. They can be dug up out of the ground anytime after 90 days for both human and livestock consumption.
Unless you are going to store the tubers in a root cellar type environment, or preserve them by canning or dehydrating, I highly recommend you only dig them up on an as needed basis and enjoy constantly fresh Jerusalem artichokes and avoid battling storage issues that can quickly have you battling mushy texture and crop loss.
When stored in a plastic bag with ventilation holes poked in it, the root tubers can keep in a refrigerator for up to one month, on average.
- The inulin percentages in the Jerusalem artichokes is at optimal levels during both the spring and fall. If you are going to use the sunchokes in natural home remedies, harvesting at this time may be beneficial.
- If you want to allow the tubers to grow and reach their full potential before harvesting, wait to dig them up until the very late fall when the flowers petals have all fallen away, and the stalks are beginning to fall over. The old stalks can be used as a pasture grass substitute for livestock.
- When harvesting the Jerusalem artichokes, dig them up just as you would potatoes – either manually with a shovel or using an agricultural tractor implement.
- Some sunchokes growers have steadfastly maintained that leaving the root tubers in the ground until after one if not two, frosts to sweeten their flavor even more. Completely frozen tubers should be relegated to the compost pile or fed to hogs.
- Do not wash or peel the sunchokes until you are ready to eat, roast, sautee, or cook with them. The tubers will start to get mushy and discolored as soon as they are exposed to moisture and sunlight.
Cooking (with) Jerusalem Artichokes
Right now my favorite way to prepare the tubers is to cover them in melted coconut oil, tossed with rosemary and garlic, and roasted until tender. Sometimes I add parsnips or carrots, if I have them. Here’s the recipe for you to try if you want: Herb Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes.
- You can eat the harvested sunchokes raw after they are washed, or make them a part of a nice salad.
- Jerusalem artichokes can be used as a potato substitute in any dish that calls for the traditional garden crop. Because of the difference in starch content, you will have to play around a bit with boiling and cooking times – often reducing them from what the recipe calls for, when using sunchokes as a potato replacement.
- Sprinkling some of your favorite spices (I recommend oregano, thyme, rosemary, or paprika) on the tubers. Sauteing them is a delicious way to make use of a bumper crop of Jerusalem artichokes.
- Roasting the tubers is perhaps the best way to enjoy their flavor, especially if you sprinkle just a little bit of cinnamon on them before subjecting them to a heat source.
- One of the most time consuming ways to use Jerusalem artichokes is to make them a part of juice, mead, or wine making recipes. It takes a bit of work to extract the juice from the tubers, but the end result is pleasing enough that the manual labor is soon forgotten.
Some homesteaders use sunchokes as a natural fencing option. While this is a superb idea if your goal is to create a beautiful visual barrier on the cheap, unlike osage orange and greenbriers, a perimeter of Jerusalem sunchoke planting will not keep livestock in or predators out.
There is nearly zero percent risk and 100 percent reward when growing Jerusalem artichokes. The only downside to cultivating this easy and hardy root vegetable plant is figuring out what to do with 200 pounds of produce from all of those plants that thrived and offered an exceptionally robust harvest.
Are you growing Jerusalem Artichokes? Don’t forget to pint this for later on your favorite Pinterest board!
updated 01/06/2020 by Tara Dodrill