It’s just about time to harvest the Jerusalem Artichokes. They’re reputed to be at their best after the tall stems have been killed back by a heavy frost or two. Jerusalem Artichokes, as is often noted, are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes. They’re actually a sunflower variety, helianthus tuberosus. There are 82 species of sunflowers (genus Helianthus), all native to North America. Of these, 38 are perennials (Wikipedia). Jerusalem Artichokes are one of four types of sunflowers growing in my garden.
Probably the best known sunflower is the annual variety. Most years, I plant a few sunflower seeds. There are plenty to choose from, tall sunflowers, dwarf sunflowers, plants with rusty-red flowers, pollenless flowers for cutting. This year, the birds did the planting and an eye-catching array of tall, sunny plants grew up around the bird feeder.
After the annuals, the most showy of the sunflowers is Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. This hybrid perennial is a fabulous addition to the border. It reaches about six feet tall and forms a clump about 4 feet wide. The stems are surprisingly strong, and this year they stood tall for most of the summer before gently arching over to display a dense array of attractive, yellow flowers. The flowers were much beloved by pollinators.
I first saw Willow-leaf sunflowers at Lost Horizons nursery and had to have this plant in my garden. It is most notable, not for its flowers, but for its long, long stems which are lined with very unsunflower-like narrow leaves. In fact, it looks rather like a giant lily stem, quite fascinating.
Those stems just keep going and going. Here’s Ponygirl beside the Willow-leaf Sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius). It does get a display of attractive flowers at the top of that long stem late in the summer. Where stems had bowed over, flowers also sprouted along the stem.
And finally, there are the Jerusalem Artichokes, sometimes called, more appropriately, sunchokes. It’s said that once you introduce these tubers to your garden, the only way to free yourself of them is to move. I have mine contained in a raised bed. These are also remarkably tall plants. Here’s Ponygirl again, to illustrate that point. They are the last of my sunflowers to bloom.
Yesterday, I dug up a few of the tubers to use in soup. They’re very knobby, gnarled roots, somewhat like ginger roots. They have a very mild, slightly nutty taste and are reputed to be rich in inulin, and thus recommended as a potato substitute for diabetics. I don’t know how factual that, or the other claims made for the benefits of Jerusalem Artichokes might be. They are reported to be high in potassium and iron and linked with good intestinal health due to prebiotic (bacteria promoting) properties. I added them to squash to make sunchoke-squash soup.
Here’s the sunchoke-squash soup, topped with sautéd mushrooms, shredded cheese and sunflower seeds. It was quite tasty, a little bit different than squash soup.