During recent work days in the Museum Garden, I’ve been asked by volunteers, visitors passing by, and even an occasional staff member or two, “What are those tall yellow flowers growing in the corner?“. While I knew the answer to the question–Jerusalem artichoke–I didn’t know much about the story behind these lovely beauties. I knew that the “Jerchokes” (as we call them) were planted a few seasons ago during an edible forest garden class, but I didn’t know why. So on to the internet I went.
What I learned was rather fascinating.
First, the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), which is also referred to as a sunchoke or sunroot is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America. Cultivated for centuries by Native Americans, the edible tuber has the texture of a water chestnut when eaten raw in a salad, or can be cooked like a potato–roasted, mashed, sautéed, or pureed in a soup.
Second, and to the part that I know that you must be scratching your heads in wonder about, why if it is native to North America and not an artichoke, is it called Jerusalem artichoke? Well, rumor has it that the Italian settlers in the U.S. referred to this abundantly growing field flower as girasole, which is Italian for sunflower. And over time, it must have sort of morphed into Jerusalem. The artichoke part came about, or so the story goes, when the French explorer Samuel Champlain after discovering the edible tuber sent samples back to his homeland with the note that its taste was like an artichoke. It’s amazing how the influence of so many cultures and languages have played a part in the naming of such a seemingly simple thing as a flower!
This is one of the many joys that I experience when working in the garden and helping out in general around the farm–that I have the opportunity to learn something new and even teach what I’ve learned. I find that every day is a learning experience here. I hope that you, too, have learned and can share something new.