Jerusalem Artichoke

Scientific name: Helianthus tuberosus
Abundance: rare
What: tubers
How: raw, cooked
Where: fields, wastelands
When: winter
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, minerals
Dangers: may cause gas/flatulance

Leaf Arrangement: The leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern along the stem.

Leaf Shape: The leaves are broadly ovate to lanceolate, typically measuring about 4 to 10 inches in length and 2 to 5 inches in width.

Leaf Venation: The venation is pinnate, with a prominent central vein and several lateral veins extending towards the leaf margins.

Leaf Margin: The leaf margins are serrated or toothed.

Leaf Color: The leaves are a vibrant green color, often with a slightly lighter shade on the underside.

Flower Structure: The flowers are located at the top of the plant and in leaf axils. Each flower has about 10 to 20 petals and measures approximately 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter.

Flower Color: The flowers are usually bright yellow.

Fruit: The plant does not produce a typical fruit; instead, it forms irregular-shaped, lumpy, elongated tubers underground.

Seed: Seeds resemble tiny sunflower seeds, which is a close relative.

Stem: The stem is sturdy and rough in texture, growing up to 6 to 10 feet tall.

Hairs: There are small hairs along the stem and leaves, giving them a rough texture.

Height: The plant typically reaches heights of 6 to 10 feet.

Jerusalem artichoke plants in their preferred habitat, the sanding banks of a river.
Jerusalem Artichoke MN

Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

A single, large tuber.
Jerusalem Artichoke IGFB


Close-up of Jerusalem artichoke leaves

Young flower buds before opening.
Jerusalem Artichoke Stem IGFB15

Jerusalem artichoke flowers.
Jerusalem Artichoke Flowers

Wild sunflower flower on left, Jerusalem artichoke flower on right.
Jerusalem Artichoke IGFB

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Jerusalem artichokes thrive in neglected waste areas and produce a large amount of starchy tubers. This makes them an excellent plant for guerrilla gardening in vacant lots and other urban-blighted areas. They belong to the same family as sunflowers and produce similar flowers in the late summer/fall.

As the tuber grow during the summer they are filled with a large starch molecule called inulin. Inulin tastes sweet but is a very complex carbohydrate which the human digestive system can not break down to extract any usable calories. Tubers eaten in the summer or fall will give you some minerals, a few vitamins, and some fiber but the inulin starch will just pass through the digestive track. Sidenote: some bacteria in the gut can eat this inulin and after doing so this bacteria will produce quite a bit of methane gas...which may lead to excessive flatulence.

However, after the first frost of the year the tuber starts producing a slow-acting enzyme which breaks the inulin down into simple sugars that the plant will use to grow new stalks in the spring. We can digest/metabolize these simple sugars. This means if we have to wait until late winter to harvest the tuber to get calories from them.

If possible leave the tubers in the ground during winter and just dig them up as need. This works great in Houston or other southern climates. Tubers stored in a refrigerator tend to get mushy for some reason. If you are up north store the tubers outside in a covered wooden box filled with loose, dry sand.

Jerusalem artichoke tubers were a staple food of many Native American tribes and were spread throughout North America via trade between tribes. However, they were not actively cultivated like corn, squash, beans or other well-known native crops. The tubers were buried and then the plants were usually just ignored until late winter when the natives were running low on stored food. At this time the women would go searching for field mouse homes to raid for Jerusalem artichoke tubers. The mice loved the tubers and would spend a great deal of time digging them up and stockpiling them around their nest. The women would then just steal them from the mice.

These plants are somewhat rare in the wild so if you do find them it is best just to buy 5-10 tubers from some fancy grocery store and plant them somewhere on your own property. They will then rapidly form your own stand of Jerusalem artichokes and within two years you'll have all the tubers you could want.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

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