Jerusalem Artichokes

It was one of those hilarious-infuriating moments where you just have to bite your tongue and then top up your cocktail.

“They’re not Jerusalem artichokes, they’re Israeli Sunflowers,” I was told forcefully.

There’s no such thing as an Israeli Sunflower, but there certainly is such a thing as a Jerusalem artichoke. And the plants in question where undoubtedly Jerusalem artichokes.

The Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is a true sunflower and native to North America. It’s not the prettiest sunflower; it’s tall and gangly and has a small blossom.  However, it also possesses a nutritious and fairly flavorful tuber.  It was used as a food by the natives for centuries, and brought to Europe at the start of exploration.

Some people shouldn’t eat them; the plant is also called the fartichoke.

It is highly invasive, spreading by rhizomes.  If grown in a large container, a few plants can yield several pounds of tubers in the late fall. If not contained, it can quickly overtake an entire yard.  The cure is simple enough:  you just have to keep uprooting them till they stop popping up–perhaps in two years.

I had done exactly that for a friend, denuding an entire pansy patch of invasive JAs. While resting after filling a few wheelbarrows full of the damn things, I got the tidings that they were “Israeli Sunflowers.”

Because, did I realize, “they’re not artichokes.”

There are several theories as to this admittedly weird name. One has to do with the Italian word for sunflower, which is girasola...sounding to English ears like “Jerusalem.”  To some, they tasted a bit like artichoke hearts.

Now some people call them “sunchokes,” which is a nice enough name, but which also defers to the deplorable ignorance of not knowing that they’re really Jerusalem artichokes.

About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
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