The Jerusalem Artichoke, also called sunchoke, blooms during the late summer and into fall in the Ozarks. You may have looked at and appreciated this large yellow flowering plant without ever realizing it is a helpful plant with edible roots, called tubers.
They are native to the central US and were used by Native Americans as a food crop. Settlers learned about this valuable survival plant and sent specimens back to Europe, where it is now also used as a food crop. It became especially popular in France, where it is included as a menu item even today.
What is Jerusalem Artichoke?
This plant is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. The Jerusalem artichoke is actually in the sunflower family. The flowers are large and yellow similar to the sunflowers we get seeds from. They can grow as tall as 10 feet, and most are well over 6 feet. The tubers that grow below ground are what we are interested in as the edible part of the plant.
Edible Tubers of Jerusalem Artichoke
The edible tubers can be used in the same ways you would use potatoes. In fact, they are described as being between a potato and a water chestnut. Cleaning them is the only difficult part. Because they have very thin skin it is best to leave the skin on and wash and scrub the dirt away. You shouldn’t peel them or cut off the knobs, as they are just part of the edible root.
The roots of Jerusalem artichoke are not starchy like potatoes. In fact, they contain little if any starch. They do store inulin, which can make up as much as 13% of the weight of the tuber. Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that helps the good bacteria in the digestive tract. The only caution is that as with other foods high in inulin content they may cause gas and bloating if eaten too quickly or in large amounts. This may be where the moniker “fartichoke” came from. However, much like beans, this seems to affect each individual differently, so start out slow if you decide to consume them. This is a good rule of thumb for all wild foods until you can determine how your body reacts to them.
A study published in 2011 found that they contain high amounts of fructans. Fructans are large molecules that store carbohydrates. We already discussed inulin, and this is a long-chain fructan. The short-chain fructans are called fructooligosaccharides. Fructans are non-digestible carbohydrates that are shown to affect body processes in ways that can improve health and are believed to help prevent or combat certain diseases. The study also found a higher protein and essential amino acid content than potatoes.
Where Can You Find Them?
You can forage them in the wild if you can identify them. They can be tough to dig up in the ozarks due to the rocky soil. They can also be small and thin as they grow between rocks to find water and nutrients. For this reason, many people who want the benefits of Jerusalem artichokes find it easier to take them in a supplement or purchase the tubers online.
You can find supplements online here. These supplements can contain up to 90% inulin in a capsule. This can help you get the fiber you need in your diet, as well as benefit the gut bacteria which help you digest your food and extract the nutrients your body requires from that food.
Another way to use them is to purchase the tubers and use them in the kitchen. You can also plant the tubers you purchase and after a few years, you can have your own supply of tubers you can harvest from your own garden.
Jerusalem artichokes are a healthy wild food you can forage. If you prefer, you can purchase them in supplements or buy the tubers and plant your own garden to harvest. However you use them, Jerusalem artichokes are a healthy addition to your diet.
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