It’s hard not to be intrigued by the funny, knobby blobs in the produce aisle- sunchokes are hard as rocks, look a bit like smooth, plump ginger roots, and periodically inspire thoughts of dressing them in little doll clothes. These are edible?
Yes, not just edible, tasty. Not just another crop, another perennial crop (perennial sunflowers! Does it get lovelier?) Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes*, are the root tubers of a particular variety of sunflower, and store their carbohydrates as inulin, making them suitable for many diabetics.
Sunchokes have the consistency of boiling potatoes (waxy soft, versus baking potatoes, which I think of as dry fluffy soft) but taste a bit like artichoke hearts.
Wait! I can grow something that tastes like artichokes, but it’ll comeback every year and I don’t have to take it inside in the winter and it doesn’t take 2 growing seasons to produce a globe? Why aren’t sunchokes in all my gardens?
I aim for them. There is definitely a little “sunchokes?” label on most of my garden designs, but there’s two tricks: 1) I have to get a hold of, and not eat, the little tuber pieces that are used to get a plot started (2) some portion of the sunchoke patch needs to be dug up each year to get to the tubers. Even my most diehard clients are often leery of assigning themselves more fall work, especially those with fairly clayey soils.
Put them in behind the potatoes, which you’ll be digging up anyway, I tell them. Add sand and organic matter each year with the plant of adding Jerusalem artichokes eventually. You won’t regret it.
*The name Jerusalem artichoke has nothing to do with Jerusalem or even the Middle East. It’s a mispronunciation of the Italian name for sunchokes.