Jerusalem artichokes were, along with potatoes, among the first native American plants to be introduced in Europe.
Although potatoes soon eclipsed them in popularity, Jerusalem artichokes are still liked by some. They even sometimes show up on our supermarket shelves, often called "sunchokes."
The edible parts of both plants are their swollen, underground stems (tuberous rhizomes). Those of Jerusalem artichoke are slightly sweet and, when raw, have the crunchy texture and some of the flavor of water chestnuts.
Besides flavor (if you like it), there are many good reasons to grow this plant. Sunchokes are among the easiest of vegetables to grow. They have no pest problems, are hardy perennials so never need replanting, and multiply rapidly. Watch out — often too rapidly!
If Jerusalem artichokes are beginning to sound weedy, yes, they have picked up that reputation. The same could be said for horseradish, mint and lemon balm, all easy-to-grow, garden-worthy plants. No need to plant Jerusalem artichoke in the vegetable garden; it's a perennial and little affected by rabbits or deer. Do give it a sunny location though.
For your initial planting, drop tubers into holes a few inches deep and about a foot apart. Named varieties are available. Some are red, others are white. For less knobby tubers, grow Gold Nugget, Fuseau or American; for heavy yields, grow French Mammoth White; for all around good yield up to a month earlier than most other varieties, grow Stampede.
Another way to start the plants is just to dig up some wild ones (with permission) and transplant them to your garden.
Begin harvesting the tubers after the leaves begin to die in autumn. Harvest them as needed because the best place to store them is right in the ground. They don't keep well in the refrigerator.
Maintain the crop as a perennial by always leaving some tubers in the ground to grow the next season. But don't worry: You'll never find every last piece of every last tuber anyway.
Even if you're not enthralled with the taste of Jerusalem artichokes, the plants are worth growing for their flowers. They're in bloom now, and you can see their yellow heads — looking like miniature sunflowers — occasionally staring out from the sunny edges of farm fields and along roadsides. Those yellow flowers, standing 5 or more feet tall, make a nice backdrop for the autumn flower garden and are also excellent cut flowers.
Neither "Jerusalem artichoke" nor "sunchoke" seem like good names for this plant. (And names are important; how many people ate kiwifruits when they were called "Chinese gooseberries," or avocados when they were known as "alligator pears?")
How about changing Jerusalem artichoke's name to a translation of the original Indian name, "sun roots"? Or, go back to the original Italian name, girasole, which means "turning to the sun," but which was anglicized to "Jerusalem"?
We might as well drop the "artichoke." That's what Samuel Champlain thought they tasted like when he and his men shared a plate of them with Native Americans on Cape Cod in the 1600s.