Driving along a country road last August, I caught sight of a patch of bright yellow flowers out of the corner of my eye. I pulled over and turned the car around to take a better look. I had to climb through a ditch to get close and realized I was looking at a beautiful stand of the Jerusalem artichoke flower. The sight of them on that sunny Saturday morning was uplifting.
Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke at all but belongs to the sunflower family (hence it’s Polish name, słonecznik which means sunflower) but with a flower that is much smaller. It does, however, have that tall stature in its lineage along with many lush green leaves along it’s stem.
Besides the flower which gladdens the eye and heart, the plant produces roundish and oblong tubers on the underground shoots that are edible as a root vegetable. The plant was at one time plentiful in Polish gardens, the tubers a food staple until it was replaced by the potato as a common dish on the tables of the wealthy and poor alike. Polish gardeners advised: "Once planted, they always persist, planted one elbow length from one another... Tubers for winter left in the ground will become a great delicacy in the spring."
Flower of Jerusalem artichoke. Author photo.
Historians say that Jerusalem artichoke first appeared in France in 1607, supposedly by way of Canada, and then appeared in Poland in the 17th century. Recipes for its use can be found in the first Polish cookbook titled Compendium Feculorum published in 1682. When it stopped being food for the table, the tubers were used as fodder to feed the barnyard animals.
Why hadn’t I planted it in my garden? It attracts birds. It’s hardy in winter climates. It tolerates damp places fairly well, is ideal for the back of a perennial garden and apparently a prolific grower and spreader. It only downside seems to be that it can become invasive. This latter fact would be a feat, indeed, in the clay soil of my garden. But if it can grow along roadway ditches and neglected empty fields maybe it has a fighting chance. Another plus is that it can give continuous bloom from August to November when my garden is really waning.
I’m ordering the tubers for this year's “something new” to try in the garden.
Common Name: Artichoke, Jerusalem
Species: Helianthus tuberosus
Polish name: Słonecznik bulwiasty
Happy National Gardening Day!
For more on plants and herbs in Polish gardens: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine, Hippocrene Books, Inc.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.