photo courtesy of Matt at
B & T World Seeds
© Kat Morgenstern, February 2006
When the leaves have all but disintegrated beneath our feet and nothing but a few buds remain as dormant hopefuls firmly closed at the tips of branches, when only conifers and certain evergreens hang on to their green foliage I sometimes get the forager's blues. Nothing much is going to stir for at least a couple of months. But - there is one thing, all too easily forgotten, that makes a perfect foraging crop for this time of the year: Jerusalem Artichokes. Neither from Jerusalem, nor an artichoke, these cheery plants are actually a type of sunflower, although its grand cousins are far larger and have an almost supernatural quality about them, with their saucer-sized floral disk and hypnotic, spiral seed patterns. A ready food dispenser when their seeds ripen, Sunflowers are bird magnets. The Jerusalem Artichoke on the other hand at first appears as little more than a pretty garden flower whose sunny blooms provide happy summer cheer. Alas, like those languid summer days, they are equally quickly forgotten, once their flowers have withered and died. Yet, this is the moment when the clever forager (thinking ahead) should carefully mark the spot, before s/he turns her attention to other autumn delights. For once Grandfather Frost has crept across the land and chilled whatever may have been left of the summer's greenery, it is time to turn our attention to the underworld, where the life-force is hibernating deep within the womb of Mother Earth. It is now that we should return to those well marked spots with our digging sticks and poke for the tubers of the Jay Choke (also known as Sun Chokes). Be careful though, so as not to uproot the whole plant. There is no need to stock pile - they stay much fresher right there in the earth itself, where they can be dug up any time you want them. The shapes of the tubers vary considerably depending on variety. Some are relatively straight while others look like a cross between a ginger rhizome and a potato, with little knobbly protrusions all over. These types can be tedious to peel, but the good news is - one can eat them whole, skins and all. Just scrub them well with a small brush to remove all the dirt. If you do peel them, toss them into cold lemon or vinegar water to prevent them turning grey.
Although they can be collected all year around, Jerusalem Artichokes are an excellent winter crop, and best after the first frost. They originated as a Native American crop in the US, but somehow, failed to excite consumers - or perhaps proved too tedious for growers once agriculture became agri-industry and it was difficult to let machines deal with the harvest. Plus, they also bruise quite easily, which is not a great selling point as far as supermarkets are concerned However, their pretty flowers were appreciated enough to plant them in gardens, where they grow, usually wholly unrecognised for their full potential. However, they soon escaped cultivation and have re-colonized their original habitat, between the Rockies and the eastern seaboard.
Photo courtesy of Matt at
B & T World Seeds
The French introduced them to Europe in the 1600s, but unfortunately the original fad did not last and they soon fell into obscurity. Only in recent years have they started to re-appear on the shelves of some select green grocers. Luckily for the forager, they are grown as garden flowers and have become locally naturalized where they may appear in waste places or along old rail road tracks etc.
It is a shame that they are not more commonly recognized, since they make and excellent replacement for other, heavy starches - something to consider if struggling with weight issues or diabetes. Jerusalem artichokes have the great virtue of storing their energy in the form of inulin, which is suitable for diabetics and does not add calories like other starchy vegetables. They are also very rich in iron, which is good news, especially for women during pregnancy and for vegetarians.
Jerusalem Artichokes are often compared to potatoes, however, it would seem to me that people who make such a comparison, have either never eaten potatoes, or else, have never eaten Jerusalem Artichokes. Other than the fact that they are both tubers they don't have much in common, IMHO. Jerusalem Artichokes bear much more similarities to water chestnuts. They can be eaten raw, dipped in dressing or added to salads, which preserves their crispy, nutty flavour. Or, they can be baked, steamed, stir fried or cooked. However, be careful not to overcook them, as they will turn to mush. Of course, you could mash them - but a somewhat watery, not very satisfying goo will result. Nor will they turn crispy like potatoes when stir fried, so, if you want to preserve their crunchiness it is best to slice them and throw them in at the last minute, or eat them raw.
CAUTION: People who are allergic to compositae plants may show sensitivity to Jerusalem Artichokes.
Baked Jerusalem Artichokes with Bread Crumbs, Thyme and Lemon
Recipe courtesy Jamie Oliver
Preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F.Gas 8. In a bowl mix together your creme fraiche, lemon juice, garlic, half the thyme and most of the Parmesan, and season well to taste. Thin out with around 6 to 8 tablespoons of water and throw in the sliced Jerusalem artichokes. Mix well and place everything in an ovenproof baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 35 minutes.
Mix the bread crumbs, the remaining thyme and some salt and pepper with a touch of olive oil. Remove the artichokes from the oven, discard the foil and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top. Then sprinkle the flavored bread crumbs over the Parmesan. Use up all the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for about15 minutes until the bread crumbs are golden. If you’re in a pokey pokey kind of mood you can poke the artichokes about a bit so some of the bread crumbs fall underneath them. This makes it look more rustic instead of like a crumble.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Gingered Jerusalem Artichokes
courtesy of Leda Meredith
1 dozen medium sized Jerusalem Artichoke tubers
Blend ingredient well and toss marinade with Jerusalem artichokes, cover, and leave in refrigerator for at least one hour (or overnight--the flavors will continue to develop). Serve on small plates as a salad appetizer before a stir-fry or other oriental style meal. This recipe is also delicious made with burdock root.
For an interesting variation, and to include even more wild plants in the recipe, try using field garlic (Allium vineale) and wild ginger (Asarum spp.) instead of the domesticated garlic and ginger.
Jerusalem Artichoke Knishes
courtesy of Leda Meredith
Mix the flour with a pinch of salt. Stir in ¼ cup water and 1 ½ tsp. oil. Knead 150 times until smooth, adding flour if the dough is too sticky to work with (this is a small handful of dough, and the kneading goes quickly if you simply pass it from one hand to the other squeezing gently each time). Wrap dough in plastic wrap or a clean, damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup oil over low heat and add the onion. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. Turn off heat, mix in mashed Jerusalem Artichokes, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Divide dough into six balls. Roll out each on a floured surface to a circle 6-7 inches in diameter. Brush each circle with some of the remaining oil. Place ½ to ¾ cup of the J-choke filling in the center of each circle. Fold up and pleat dough tightly around filling pressing each "pleat" to close (the filling should not be completely covered-a small circle of it should show on top).
Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Place the knishes on the sheet. Beat together the egg yolk and 1Tbsp. water, and brush the knishes with this mixture. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden.
For a milder flavor, you can use ½ J-chokes and ½ potatoes. You can also include other vegetables in the filling such as wild greens.
Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with Wild Seasonings Remoulade
courtesy of Leda Meredith
Serves 2-3 (recipe can be doubled)
Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes clean but do not peel. Chop into small pieces. Drop the pieces into a bowl of acidulated water to prevent darkening (1 Tbsp. vinegar in 1 quart water).
2. Make the mayonnaise base for the remoulade*: Whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil, starting with just a few drops at a time. As the mayonnaise starts to thicken you can add the oil a few spoonfuls at a time, but always whisk to incorporate each addition of oil before adding more. You should have a sauce that is just slightly thinner than commercial mayonnaise, much creamier, and a rich golden yellow.
*All ingredients need to be at room temperature for the mayo to emulsify well. If the egg is coming out of the refrigerator, place it whole in a bowl of hot tap water for one minute before cracking and separating out the yolk.
3. Mix in the melilot, garlic, horseradish, pickles, and capers. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, and add more salt if desired.
4. Mix with the Jerusalem artichokes and serve cold.
Leftover remoulade can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.
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