Jerusalem Artichoke, wild delicacy and edible landscaping

It’s early August and the Jerusalem artichokes are now in full bloom.  A great source of food, they’re easy to grow and they multiply on their own. The tubers are similar to potatoes in nutrition and taste. You can leave them in the ground and only harvest when needed.

I had been wanting to put some of these on our property for a couple of years now and spent the summer of 2009 looking for a patch of these growing wild so I could transplant some. Unfortunately, the only wild plants I could find were on County Park property where digging is illegal.

I ended up buying some starts from Johnny’s Seed Co. in September ’09 which worked out well since they ship them to you in October with the instructions to get them in the ground in October. They’ve spread out more than I expected. I planted this “patch” in a double row and now the rows have spread in all directions with smaller plants reaching about 3 feet away from the original rows.

If you want to try to forage for these in the wild, they seem to prefer damp locations in full sun. They get pretty tall, the plants in the photo above are between 6 and 8 feet tall. You’ll find them in patches due to their tendency to spread.

You can see by the photos above that the plant should be easy to identify by it’s leaves and distinctive stalk structure. At this time of year, the bright yellow flowers are highly visible from a distance.

I dug up one of the off shoots to show the root system. You can see in the photo below that I actually cut into a couple of good sized tubers with the shovel. I am totally amazed at the way these plants spread out and multiply. The tuber below is about 3 inches long and around one inch in diameter.

We ate this tuber raw. The flavor is sort of “nutty” and the texture and moisture content is identical to that of a raw potato. Saying that these are similar to water chestnuts is probably the best comparison.

Detailed information about growing and harvesting these can be  found at the Purdue website  HERE or JohnnySeeds.com  has an excellent .pdf guide to growing Jerusalem artichokes HERE.

I highly recommend adding these to your garden or landscaping. If you live in the Midwest or the Eastern US, you should have no trouble growing these. They make a great stealth food source that will blend into any landscape. They would work well anywhere that a regular sunflower would be desired. Plan on giving them plenty of room to spread and be prepared to transplant or eat the extras.

Justus

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