Although Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) has nothing to do with the historic city in the Middle East, I thought it would be appropriate to feature these late summer wildflowers on the eve of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah.
Why are these plants, native to most of North America, called Jerusalem artichoke? One theory: “The Jerusalem part of the name probably came from a mispronunciation of “girasole,” which is Italian for ‘sunflower.’” During the 17th century, European explorers found what had been “an important food plant for native Americans” for centuries and brought tubers back to the European continent.
The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website notes,
Plants are still grown today for harvest of the tubers which begins about 2 weeks after the flowers fade. Each plant typically produces 2-5 pounds of tubers per year. Raw tubers have a nutty flavor. Tubers may be grated raw into salads, boiled and/or mashed somewhat like potatoes, roasted or added to soups. Unlike potatoes, tubers do not contain starch. They do contain inulin which converts into fructose which is better tolerated by people with type 2 diabetes than sucrose.
Some people find the taste of the tubers (called “sunchokes”) similar to artichokes. If you decide to grow these plants, be aware that they can spread aggressively and “are difficult to remove from the garden. Tiny pieces of tuber left in the soils will sprout.”
Jerusalem artichokes are blooming now near many Iowa trails and roadsides. I took all of the enclosed pictures on trails that run along the banks of North Walnut Creek in Windsor Heights or Walnut Creek in Des Moines.