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Lugh Ildánach

Jerusalem Artichokes

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The Jerusalem artichoke is not truly an artichoke and has nothing to do with Jerusalem. The common name is derived instead from the Italian word for sunflower, ‘girasole', which means ‘turn to the sun'. Unlike its well-known relative the giant sunflower, which is an annual plant and lasts only one season, the tuberous sunflower, Helianthus tuberosus, stores up food in its tubers to carry it through winter.


There are not many fresh vegetables from the garden in the winter months and the Jerusalem artichoke can make a pleasant change to the usual fare. It is also a very easy vegetable to grow. The small tubers are kept back for planting each spring in good, fertile soil in an open sunny position.


The stems rise very quickly when the weather warms up in early summer and tower over head-height when well grown. Occasionally the plant is used as a temporary shelter screen for other vegetables.

Cooking Jerusalem Artichokes


The white flesh of the Jerusalem artichoke tubers is nutty, sweet and crunchy. Like potatoes, the artichoke tubers make satisfying winter dishes, using the stored goodness of the plant but in this case the main carbohydrate stored is inulin, not starch, and reputedly this makes the Jerusalem a good food for diabetics.


The Jerusalem artichoke is available to buy from about October to March, but from fresh from the garden over a longer period. It is also a good source of iron, the skin is very thin and quite nutritious. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked by boiling or steaming.



This is a sun-lover and an open area in full sunshine with good fertile soil is required. The soil should be open and well-drained, not heavy or inclined to be wet. In March when the soil is workable, plant the tubers about 7 cm deep and 30 cm apart in a row. If more than one row is required, they could be spaced about 60cm apart.



Maintain good weed control by hoeing and hand-weeding until the shoots are growing strongly.



Watering is not usually necessary, but might be considered in a dry spell and on light soil.



Jerusalem artichokes like rich feeding but a lot of organic manure encourages slugs, as it does for potatoes, and it is better to use a high-potash general fertiliser, or vegetable fertiliser, if there is a risk of slug damage, especially on heavy ground.



The tubers are best left in the ground until needed because of their thin skins, but can be lifted and stored if a cool, damp atmosphere can be created. Lifting in October might become essential to avoid slug attack. The tubers can be left in the ground from year to year but they spread outwards slowly and the tubers tend to be small and fiddly if left on.

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In February you can also plant Jerusalem Artichokes and sow Broad Beans but if your soil (or you) isn’t ready yet you can easily delay until the end of March or even into early April.


Jerusalem Artichokes


If the Irish people would have adopted the North American Jerusalem Artichoke instead of the South American potato there would never have been a famine! Jerusalem Artichokes are completely free of pests and diseases and their yield is phenomenal. Last year I harvested a full wheelbarrow of the tubers from only twelve plants.


You need to give them plenty of space and be aware of their shading effect as they can grow to over 2m tall. After all they are related to sunflowers and in warm years they may even develop small yellow sunflowers. The seed tubers should be planted just like potatoes about 15cm deep and 30cm apart in the row with drills 70cm apart.


The variety ‘Fuseau’ is probably the least knobbly type. The red skinned ‘Gerrard’ is slightly more knobbly but very high yielding. The Irish Seed Savers in Clare also have a few interesting Heritage varieties. If you keep the least knobbly ones for replanting in the following year and keep doing that for a few years you will possibly develop a smoother strain.


Don’t start harvesting the tubers until late October as they won’t be ready. They are real winter vegetables.


This is the ideal beginner’s crop. I would go as far as saying you should give up gardening if you manage to fail to grow Jerusalem Artichokes.


Let’s just hope that you like them. Their nickname has an added consonant before the word ‘artichoke’.

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