Jerusalem artichoke is pretty enough for a place in the flower garden providing its rambunctiousness is somehow contained.
Jerusalem artichoke is a type of sunflower that is grown for its edible tuberous roots as well as its pretty yellow flowers. This is a large, gangly, multibranched perennial with rough, sandpapery leaves and stems, and numerous yellow flowerheads. It can get 10 ft (3 m) tall and its branches can spread to nearly as much. They sometimes break under their own weight, and often fall over. The leaves are ovate (broadest below the middle) and 5-10 in (12.7-25.4 cm) long. The flowerheads are 3-4 (7.6-10 cm) across and have 10-20 bright yellow rays. Jerusalem artichoke is quite showy in bloom during late summer and early fall. The edible tubers are produced just below the ground on thin white rhizomes. They are segmented and knobby, 1-4 in (2.5-10 cm) long, and have crisp, white flesh. More than a dozen cultivars have been selected and named. 'Fusau', a French cultivar, has fewer knobs and is thus easy to clean, but some say it isn't as flavorful as knobbier types. 'Maine Giant' produces dense creamy white tubers. 'Golden Nugget' has elongated, carrotlike tubers.
The Jerusalem artichoke's sunny flowers are enjoyed by butterflies and are great for cutting and arranging.
Jerusalem artichoke grows wild in North America from Saskatchewan, east to Ontario and south to Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. Its original distribution is not clear because it was widely spread by Native Americans who cultivated it for the edible tubers. The original range probably was the northern Great Plains of Canada and the U.S. Jerusalem artichoke grows in moist soils in old fields, along roads and the edges of forests.
Jerusalem artichoke is very easy to grow in almost any loose, moderately well drained soil. They almost certainly will spread out of their original planting, so be prepared to pull up plants that get out of bounds. If you want them to stay fairly neat, they may require staking. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Regular garden watering gives the best tuber production, but Jerusalem artichokes can tolerate dry periods if they have to. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: Propagate Jerusalem artichokes from the tubers which should be planted in spring or soon after the first frost in fall, 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) deep and about 2 ft (0.6 m) apart. After harvest, there are always plenty of tubers still left in the ground, and these will sprout the following spring. Just thin them out as they come up to maintain a spacing of 2 ft (0.6 m) or so. If the ground freezes deeply in your area, you should overwinter your "seed chokes" in a cool, dry place for spring planting.
Jerusalem artichoke is an attractive sunflower that works well in perennial borders and naturalistic gardens. It is a little rangy and awkward, and perhaps not well suited to tidy or formal gardens. Most gardeners relegate them to a back corner of the vegetable garden. The flowers are very attractive to butterflies and the seeds are eaten by finches and other songbirds.
The tubers or 'Sunchokes' of the Jerusalem artichoke.
The edible tubers produced by Jerusalem artichokes are delicious and nutritious. The tubers can be harvested anytime starting about two weeks after the flowers have faded. Expect 2-5 pounds of tubers per plant. Jerusalem artichokes can be stored fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several weeks, but it's better to leave them in the ground until you need them. Jerusalem artichokes are a pain to clean. They must be brushed and scrubbed under running water to remove the sand and dirt that hides among the knobs and folds, but they do not need to be peeled. Raw Jerusalem artichokes have a sweet nutty taste which has been likened to Brazil nuts. They are especially good grated into fresh salads, and are a perfect snack for dieters. Boiled and mashed they are rather similar to potatoes, and can be used like potatoes in most recipes. Jerusalem artichokes make delicious French fries. The British make a creamy soup from them. They are excellent pickled. Roast Jerusalem artichokes as you would potatoes with fowl or meat. Bake with cream and cheese for a delicious (and decadent!) scalloped au gratin. Be careful not to overcook; Jerusalem artichokes will collapse and turn mushy within just a few minutes after they are fully cooked through. See Elizabeth Schneider's Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables for several exciting Jerusalem artichoke recipes.
Unlike potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes do not contain starch, but instead inulin, which is a type of fructose, a natural sugar. Inulin tastes sweet and satisfies like starch, but is not digested and can be tolerated by diabetics. Jerusalem artichokes average less than 120 calories per cup. Although some people are uneffected, Jerusalem artichokes can cause extreme flatulence in others. (Perhaps this statement should be under "Warning", below?)
The Jerusalem artichoke is Steve's vegetable garden must be continually managed to keep it from taking over.
Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by Native Americans who introduced them to the first white settlers in the early 1600s. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain, reported that they tasted like artichokes. They were quickly accepted back in Europe and the Italians called them girasole articiocco, meaning "sunflower artichoke." Apparently "Jerusalem" is a corruption of the Italian name, and has nothing whatever to do with a city in the Middle East. The French name, topinambour derives from a tribe of Brazilian Indians who were taken to France about the same time as the vegetable. Nowadays the tubers are sold in produce markets and healthfood stores under the names, "sunchoke" or "Sun Root." Jerusalem artichoke is the only vegetable of any consequence to come from North America. (Potatoes, tomatoes, corn and peppers all originated in Central or South America.) When potatoes were finally accepted by the Europeans in the 18th century, Jerusalem artichokes went out of favor, and have remained a rather minor vegetable ever since.
Jerusalem artichoke can become weedy and invasive.