One of the tallest plants in an established meadow is the Jerusalem artichoke. Tall stems bear small yellow flowers that sway in summer breezes, their faces turned to the sun. A meadow filled with these plants is breath taking. I had an opportunity to walk in a meadow preserve on Long Island when many plants were in full bloom. It was late July and the fields were filled with Jerusalem artichokes, purple coneflower, monarda, bedstraws, grasses and was simply stunning. I went back about two week later and the blossoming time for the artichokes was over. I was stunned to see how different the landscape looked and felt, as if some magic had left the scene. Though the artichoke blossom showtime was over, I walked away with a smile. Hidden, out of our sight, within the soil, tasty tubers lie. Obviously, managed meadows are off limits to foraging. But it brought back memories of digging for artichokes in my back yard. Once dug and cleaned, they are delicious, like a water chestnut in texture and slightly sweet due to its inulin content which turns into fructose after harvesting. Today I live near a managed meadow and these flowers continue to delight on my summer walks.
Botanical Name: Helianthus tuberosus (tuberous sunflower)
Parts Used: tubers, stalks, flowers
Native to North America and not from Jerusalem; it is not a potato but related to the sunflower and daisy families.
The Native Americans during the 1600’s showed the early settler this plant and how to use it. There existed quite a plant exchange as the early settlers began their colonies and trade went back and forth from here to Europe. Many of our common meadow weeds, and culinary herbs were brought over. But the colonists brought specimens from this land to Europe too.
It is thought the Spanish name for sunflower, girasol, was interpreted as Jerusalem, and for some reason the name stuck. It seems girasole is the Italian word for sunflower, too. Today we have the botanical family and can safely say it is a sunflower relative. Jerusalem artichokes can be weedy so there is some concern about growing it as a food crop.
Uses: tubers, small and narrow but potato like, contain inulin, which is often recommended for diabetics as it does not seem to spike blood sugar levels. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, mentions several recipes that include:
1. digging and washing dug tubers and adding to salad,
2. eating them raw, dried, easy to snack on,
4. added to gravy with a meat dish and he has a recipe for chiffon pie.
They are a favorite of foragers too.
The Native Americans here in the NE used artichoke tubers as their primary carbohydrate source. Once corn, maize was introduced from Mexico, artichokes were still maintained as a food crop because it was hardy and disease resistant unlike corn.
Leaves and flowers: it seems the leaves and flowers of its close relative, the sunflower, were used and noted in the Cherokee herbal, by J.T. Garrett. However, Peterson’s Medicinal Plant Guide states that they made a tea from the leaves, stalks and flowers and used it to treat rheumatism, aches and pains in joints.
Tall yellow flowers capture the sun and our hearts during summertime and provide food. What’s your favorite recipe? Let’s share.
Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.