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Jerusalem Artichoke by Klaus Laitenberger

Jerusalem Artichoke

My new book was meant to be on Jerusalem artichokes but I was discouraged by a number of people with the simple question: Who or how many people would buy a book on Jerusalem artichokes?

A pamphlet for Jerusalem artichoke

The aim of this booklet is to promote this ancient, half-forgotten vegetable and also to campaign to re-name it as “Sunroot”, because as you will read later, it has been falsely or mistakenly named Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichokes have been grown in Europe since 1605. Their popularity has waxed and waned throughout the last few centuries. Generally in times of food shortages or potato failures, it has gained in popularity. However, when the crisis reverted, people quickly went back to the potato.

I am surprised that it has never become a staple crop. In one way it doesn’t make sense as it is a much hardier crop than the potato and can withstand frosts, it doesn’t suffer from any of the many troubles the potato encounters and it yields even higher than the potato. Could it be the knobbly shape of the tubers or the effects it causes due to its high inulin content which gives it the nickname “fartichoke”?

However, with new findings of its health and environmental benefits, Jerusalem artichoke is set to become an important food crop throughout many parts of the world. Due to its low glycemic index (GI) score, it is an ideal food for diabetics. It contains no cholesterol, plenty of iron, potassium, fibers and antioxidants and most importantly inulin. There is an increasing worldwide demand for inulin as a healthy sugar substitute and as a prepiotic.

More and more research points to its health benefits and I’m sure that within a few years the poor neglected “Sunroots” will at least become an important health food.

I know the next question – how do they taste? A simple answer – delicious! They can be cooked just like potatoes and can even be eaten raw.

Introduction

The Jerusalem artichoke is definitely one of the easiest and most highly productive vegetables to grow. It is grown for its edible tubers which have the appearance of a knobbly potato. It can also be grown as a livestock feed both for the tubers and foliage. Some people grow them as an ornamental plant, especially the more flowering types.

There are a number of varieties available in Europe, but unfortunately none of them are well known or easily available. Unlike the potato it appears to be completely free of any diseases. The Jerusalem artichoke is extremely high yielding and can grow in relatively poor soil. We achieved yields of up to 100 t/ha (10kg/m²) in Ireland. In appearance the plant is very similar to the sunflower and is sometimes called “tuberous sunflower’.

I am surprised why not more people grow this amazing vegetable especially given the fact that it is very nutritious and highly beneficial for people suffering from diabetes. In Germany it is commonly known as the “Diabetiker-Kartoffel” (diabetes potato). It’s also very delicious and can be used in various ways in the kitchen. It can be eaten raw – grated in a salad or cooked, boiled, roasted or blended in a soup.

However, when you eat them initially they may cause wind and bloating. Thus it is important to ease yourself into eating them

Jerusalem artichoke is also one of the best prebiotic foods and encourages all the good bacteria in the lower gut. The rumbling in your stomach and other side-effects are the result of the feeding of all the good bacteria – a good sign!

Jerusalem artichokes are still an under-utilised crop but due it’s highly beneficial medicinal uses it is quickly gaining in popularity in many countries throughout the world.

Jerusalem artichokes make an ideal crop for a permaculture garden as they can be grown as a perennial and can live up to 30 years. In fact, it is one of the very few vegetable crops that can survive in the wild without the care of a gardener.

This booklet aims to revive and popularise an ancient vegetable that deserves more attention.

The naming of Jerusalem artichoke

The name ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is very misleading as it has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. It was simply a false interpretation from the Italian name “Girasola articiocco” – the sunflower artichoke. Girasola means ‘turning to the sun’. Jerusalem artichoke flowers are identical to small sunflowers and they also turn towards the sun. When the Jerusalem artichoke was brought into England in 1617 the name ‘Girasola’ changed into ‘Jerusalem’ and for some reason this mispronunciation of the word has stayed until today. In a book published in 1620 by Tobias Venner, an English doctor, Girasole was translated into “Jerusalem” and for some reason this has stuck until today. English chefs made a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup and it was aptly named “Palestine Soup” and the recipe is still available.

The artichoke part of the name came from the similarity of taste between the tubers and the globe artichoke with which people in southern Europe were already familiar with.

On the continent, it is mostly called Topinambur (German) or Topinambour (French). But unfortunately even this name is a misnomer and has nothing to do with this wonderful crop.

This mistake originated in France when several members of a Brazilian tribe called the ‘Tupinambas’ or ‘Topinamboux’ were brought to Paris in 1613 as a curiosity. This was around the same time as the Jerusalem artichoke was introduced. Since then, the French, Germans, Romanians, Russians and Spanish call the “Sunroots” by its wrong name.

A separate account reported of a visit from the same Brazilian Tupinamba tribe to the Vatican in 1615 and this coincided when a sample of a Jerusalem artichoke tuber was on display there at the same time.

In America, Jerusalem artichokes are often known as “sunchokes”. This name was created in the 1960’s by a Frieda Caplan, a Californian vegetable wholesaler to popularise this vegetable. I’m not sure why such an unappetising name was chosen, but it seems to have stuck in America.

Other names for this delicious vegetable include tuberous sunflowers, woodland sunflower, earth truffle and earth apple.

The Native Americans called them sunroots which is definitely the best name for this wonderful vegetable. The Cheyenne name is “hohinon” (meaning: brought back by the scouts) and the Pawnee name is “kisu-sit” (meaning: tapering, long). The Cree Indians called the plant ‘askipaw’ and the Huron Indians of eastern North America called the plant ‘skibwan’ (raw thing).

They are available on www.greenvegetableseeds.com

Gardening Talks and Workshops

Date: Tuesday 19th March 2024

Talk: Carrigtohill Gardening Club

Time: 8pm

For venue and booking, contact Caroline on the email below.

Email: caroline.a.horgan@gmail.com

Date: Thursday 23rd May 2024

Course: Grow your own food in healthy soil

Venue: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Contact: Karen on karenodonohoe1111@gmail.com

This course is suited for anyone who plans to start a food garden. It is filled with practical tips and demonstrations on how to sow seeds outdoors, transplant crops and how to look after a variety of plants. The course is held at the productive and beautiful gardens in Ballymaloe as well as in their 1 acre greenhouse.

A hands-on course – so bring gardening gear.

 

Airfield Estate Gardens

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Ballintubbert Gardens and House

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Birr Castle Demesne

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Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

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Irish National Stud and Gardens – The Japanese Gardens and St. Fiachra’s Garden

Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum and Gardens

June Blake’s Garden

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Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden

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