No, they aren’t artichokes…and they aren’t from Jerusalem either!
The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial wildflower known for its edible tubers, hence its species name “tuberosus”. Like true artichokes (Cynara cardunculus), the Jerusalem artichoke is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). However, unlike the true artichokes, the Jerusalem artichoke is a native to the New World.
It is believed that the Jerusalem artichoke originated in the eastern United States. It was an important food crop cultivated by Native American tribes and can now be found in every state except Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii. Its range also extends north into eastern and central Canada.
Care and Cultivation
This wild sunflower can grow 6-10 feet tall, making for an impressive display of yellow blooms in late summer through autumn. The species is easily grown in average to moist, well-draining garden soil in full sun to part shade. Plant where it will have protection from high winds and plenty of room to spread, such as a meadow. It multiplies quickly through the growth of new tubers underground.
These tubers, known as sunchokes, make this plant unique from many other North American plants. Jerusalem artichoke is among only a few globally important crops that originated from eastern North America. Early colonists to North America learned of the culinary value of the sunchokes and sent them back to Europe, where they quickly gained popularity. They became a relished crop for poor farm families across Europe and the American colonies, as well as a livestock feed during winter due to the ease of storage in root cellars and barns. They played an important role during WWII, when food shortages due to Nazi occupancy led to strict rationing. In 19th century Germany, a “Jerusalem artichoke brandy” became quite popular, and is still made today. Today it is favored as a soup ingredient and a gourmet vegetable option for upscale restaurants and markets.