PIJ #54; March – May 1995; page 47
Margaret Lynch explains how to grow, store and prepare the edible section of what is a truly prolific plant.
Helianthus tuberosus is an annual which will tolerate most conditions. Commonly called Jerusalem artichoke, it is known in its native America as Sunroot. Other names include Sunchoke and Suntuber. It is not to be confused with the globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus, which is a thistle with edible flower-buds.
Suntuber foliage is said to be good fodder. Rapid growth makes it an excellent summer shade, screen, or windbreak. It may also have potential in paper-making. The plant produces a substance which inhibits growth in nearby plants, so don’t use the green foliage for mulch.
Plant tubers in early spring, choosing the spot carefully – you plant Suntubers for life! When you harvest them – last year I took four and a half large buckets from a patch one metre square – small ones will be overlooked and grow next year. Don’t put whole tubers in mulch or compost, and remove unwanted plants as they appear. In warm weather, plants will reach one to three metres in a few weeks. Water and feed in moderation. They will produce a crop even if totally neglected. The first cold snap kills the tops. Dig tubers as required. If you have to harvest them all at once, store them in moist sand in a cold place.
For Food: You can feed fresh tubers to pigs and goats, or finely chopped to poultry. As a human food, like many other food plants, they need careful preparation. Some people have no problem digesting them but they are a minority. Over 50 percent of their carbohydrate is in forms we don’t have enzymes to break down. Beans contain 10 to 15 percent of the same substances. These substances need to be leached or converted to make a digestible product.
Refrigerate or cold-store tubers for at least a month, then slice and boil in lots of water for 15 minutes, adding one tablespoon of lemon juice per 1200 mls after 10 minutes, or right at the start if you want crisp tubers. Drain, slip off peel, and pat dry. The slices can then be marinated, pickled, dehydrated, barbecued, roasted, deep-fried, made into soup, pureed and used in pies, cakes, or scones – use your favourite pumpkin recipes, but add less sugar.
If you have a solar cooker, slow combustion stove, crock pot, or are planning a hungi, cook whole tuber for 24 hours in a tightly closed container at 93’C (200’F). Season and serve, or slice and dry for a snack.