Potatoes aren’t the only good tuber out there, consider the Jerusalem artichoke also called the sunchoke, sunroot or earth apple. This is actually a species of sunflower. It grows wild in much of the United States and Canada. It’s normally considered native to eastern North America, and found from eastern Canada and Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas. While this is its natural range due to the influence of man, I have encountered it growing wild in Northern California and I would suspect it can show up in almost every state.
It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from 4 ft 11 inches–9 ft 10 inches tall with leaves that have a rough, hairy texture and the larger leaves on the lower stem are broad and can be up to 12 inches long, and the higher leaves smaller and narrower. The flowers are yellow and about 2.0–3.9 ininches in diameter, with10–20 ray florets. They remind me of sunflowers.
The tubers are elongated and uneven, normally about 3.0–3.9 inches long and from 1.2 –2.0 inches thick. They remind me of a ginger root. The color can vary from pale brown to white, red, or purple.
They contain about 10% protein, and a not much starch. One cup of Jerusalem artichokes contains 109 calories. Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of fiber, thiamin, phosphorus, potassium and iron. They are low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. However, they are rich in the carbohydrate inulin (76%), not to be confused with insulin. The inulin in tubers that are kept in storage will turn into fructose. Jerusalem artichokes have a sweet taste because of the fructose.
The tubers can be used as a substitute for potatoes, they have a similar consistency, and in their raw form have a similar texture, but when boiled can become mushy. They are better if steamed. Jerusalem artichokes have a sweet, nutty flavor. They can be eaten raw and sliced thinly, they are nice in salads.
Jerusalem artichokes have also been promoted as a healthy choice for type 2 diabetics, because fructose is better tolerated by people who are type 2 diabetic. In the past, it was used as a remedy for diabetes.
If your winters are cold, begin digging Jerusalem artichokes in late fall, at least two weeks after your first hard freeze. In milder areas, wait until midwinter to dig your tubers.
Jerusalem artichokes grow well in neglected abandoned areas and produce a good crop. This makes them an excellent plant for guerrilla gardening in vacant lots and other wild land areas
Jerusalem artichokes are easy to grow and a 25-square-foot planting can produce more than 100 pounds of tubers. One good thing about growing a patch of this, most people won’t know that it is an edible plant.
As with any edible plant be sure you have properly identified the plant before you consume it. The wrong identification of plants can kill you.