Scientific Name: Helianthus tuberosus
Jerusalem Artichokes are also known as Sunchokes, Sunroot, Topinambour, Topinambur, Girasol, Girasole or Earth Apples
Jerusalem artichokes, not related to the domestic artichoke belongs to the Compositae or Asteraceae family which includes asters, daisies and sunflowers. It was once cultivated extensively throughout North America. The Jerusalem artichoke is a 5-10 foot tall upright hearty perennial plant with yellow flowers 2-3 inches in diameter, 4-8 inch long hairy leaves and thick, hairy stems. Jerusalem Artichoke tubers can be eaten raw, boiled or baked like potatoes and were used as survival food by Native America Indians. It grows wild in the fields or along streams but Jerusalem artichokes are a wonderful domesticated medicinal vegetable in any home garden.
The sunchoke, as they are also commonly called, looks like a knobby, odd-shaped root similar to a ginger root. The firm, crisp tubers are low in starch and taste a bit like water chestnuts. Some say that the Jerusalem Artichoke has a sweet, nutty flavor.
Medicinal Uses of Jerusalem Artichoke: Jerusalem artichokes have historically been used as a dietary supplement for people suffering from diabetes and other pancreatic complaints to reduce blood sugar levels and minimize the need for insulin.
Jerusalem Artichokes and Glycemic Index: Unlike the potato where its starch breaks down to glucose affecting blood sugar, the Jerusalem Artichoke is high in inulin which only breaks down to fructose in the colon. As a result, they have a very low glycemic index and barely affect blood sugar levels. They are also high in the prebiotic FOS (Fructo Oligo Saccharide) which helps to build good gut flora and to balance yeast in the body and gut.
Note: I often find that prebiotics work better than probiotics, especially for those with diabetes or chronic yeast infections. Prebiotics (as contained in the skin of apples and in the Jerusalem artichoke) feed the probiotic bacteria and help to correct gut dysbiosis over time.
Inulin, the carbohydrate found in Jerusalem artichokes, is counted as a prebiotic because it is not readily digestible. Inulin is different from insulin but perhaps mimicks it. Historically, the effects of inulin on humans include the relief of constipation, lowering of blood glucose levels, improvement of calcium absorption, reduction of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and the inhibition of the growth of various kinds of cancer.
Nutritional Information on Jerusalem Arichokes: One cup of Jerusalem artichokes contains 109 calories. Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of fiber, FOS, inulin, thiamin, phosphorus, potassium and iron. They are low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium.
The Edgar Cayce Readings:
In many readings given by Edgar Cayce, the famous sleeping prophet (http://www.edgarcayce.org), it was recommended to consume a piece of Jerusalem artichoke, “about the size of a hen’s egg”, twice or more per week and sometimes even a little with every meal for the prevention or treatment of diabetes. It was often recommended that one of these servings be eaten raw and the other cooked in Patapar Paper (I checked and you can find this on www.amazon.com ). You were to not eat the skin, but mash the juices with the pulp and eat them together always with a meal. He recommended digging the tubers as needed directly from the ground so they were as fresh as possible. He also advocated refraining from foods that create more sugar (excess starches and sweets) for these particular patients but did say that a little honey could be taken occasionally.
How to prepare the Jerusalem Artichoke: “When cooked, prepare as you would a boiled potato; not boiled too much, but sufficient that it crumbles, – and keep the juices of same in same. Hence, cook in Patapar Paper. This may be given with a little salt, no pepper, and not too much butter. Butter should not be taken in any quantity, though a little for seasoning vegetables is better than the fats or oils, see?” (2007-1)
Asks a patient receiving a reading from Edgar Cayce: “(Question) Should I make the Jerusalem artichoke a part of my diet all year round? (Answer) It is better that this be taken occasionally; that is, take it for five or six weeks, and then leave off for a like period. It is more effective when taken in this manner.” (2772-3)
And in another reading: “Before beginning the artichokes, be sure to have at least two adjustments osteopathically; one of a general nature, one of a specific nature, in the areas of the 6th, 7th and 8th dorsal, where there has been a weakness. And then continue these treatments sufficiently to make the corrections needed in those areas. For, these weaknesses in the spine also account for – with the reflex activity upon the pancreas – the heaviness across the small of the back, and through the upper portion of the limbs. If these adjustments are carried out, though, we find that corrections will be made.” (2578-1)
To read more about Edgar Cayce and his treatments for diabetes, go to:
Uses for Jerusalem Artichokes:
- Grate raw on top of salads, chutneys or salsa
- Cook in the oven like a potato
- Cook in parchment paper then eat the tuber and drink the juice (an Edgar Cayce remedy)
- Artichoke Pasta products: DeBoles brand is made from premium organic Jerusalem artichoke flour, but with the processing I don’t know how much of the product has active inulin.
- Jerusalem Artichokes are used commercially as a source of fructose and, in some parts of the world, to make liquor.
- Sunchokes are sometimes mentioned in cookbooks as a substitute for diabetics to use instead of potatoes.
Note: If a little is good, a lot is NOT better (as I tell my clients often in my practice for using any natural supplements and special foods). If you eat too much Jerusalem artichoke in its raw form it can cause lots of stinky gas so I’ve read. Scrub them well before consuming. Some feel there is no need to peel them but Edgar Cayce suggests not eating the skin. If you are new to eating Jerusalem Artichokes, it would be prudent to start out slowly and work up to a larger volume over a period of several days.
Where to Purchase Jerusalem Aritchoke Varieties and Tubers:
Varieties of Jerusalem Artichokes include: Mommoth French White, French White Improved, Stampede, Fuseau, and Red Fuseau.
The easiest way I’ve found to start a patch of Jerusalem Artichokes is to either order them from a seed company (some are listed below) if you know what variety you want to try or to get a few tubers from a fellow gardener. You can also purchase them by the pound from your local grocery store (you may have to place a special order for this and you may not know which variety you are getting but the will grow when planted).
Jerusalem artichokes are sometimes seen in the produce area during the fall and winter months but they don’t have a long shelf life so in your own garden you’ll want to dig them up as you need them.
Some catalogues that carry Jerusalem Artichoke tubers are:
How to plant Jerusalem Artichokes:
Although Jerusalem artichokes are better adapted to cooler climates, they can be grown all over the United States. We live in Zone 5 and they grow great here.
For best results, plant as you would potatoes in fertile sandy loams or well-drained river bottoms located in full sun. Planting should be early in the spring, when the soil can be satisfactorily worked. Choose tubers, about 2 ounces in size and with 2 or 3 prominent eyes and plant them 3-5 inches deep, every 12-24 inches in rows 30-42 inches apart. Do not allow cut seed pieces to dry before planting.
Once shoots emerge, spread one inch of rough compost on top and mulch with 6-8 inches of straw. Later planting results in reduced yields but you should get a good crop the year after that.
The plant flowers between July and October. Jerusalem Artichokes grow up to 10 feet tall and they do spread, so you may want to develop a permanent bed for them. Be aware that dogs, hogs, pigs and even cats may dig them up to eat them. The 4 inch, 2-3 inch long tubers form in August and are ready to harvest as early as 90 days.
Insects, Pests and Diseases affecting Jerusalem Artichokes:
Slugs and snails like the leaves and stems. Root maggots can sometimes infest the tubers, but not often. Blights and fungus can affect plants, especially in wet, humid weather.
Harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes:
The crop should not be harvested until after frost for best flavor and highest inulin concentration but they are available for eating right from the ground where they can be freshly dug in the fall, winter and spring months. Tubers dug later in the season are sweeter but have less inulin. Tops should be cut off with a mower after it frosts.
Since it is nearly impossible to harvest all the tubers in a field or garden, there will be a large number of volunteer plants the following spring. Isn’t that great?
Storage of Jerusalem Artichokes:
Whenever possible, store the artichokes in the ground. Otherwise, you may be able to keep them in the refrigerator in a jar of peat moss or potting soil. Storing them in the refrigerator diminishes the inulin and nutritional potency.
The skin of Jerusalem artichoke is very thin. Care should be taken in handling to avoid skinning, cuts and bruises. The skin is also susceptible to rapid moisture loss so the crop should be put in storage immediately after harvest. Cold storage facilities should have high humidity (85 to 95% relative humidity) and a temperature near 32 0F. Under these conditions, tubers can be kept for several months. If the tubers are to be washed, fresh water sanitized with bleach should be used.
I have not had the ability to use Jerusalem Artichokes in my practice because they are not readily available in the grocery stores but I do like the flavor and always try to keep a patch growing for our family and to share with clients. I have often recommended that my clients dedicate a small part of their yard to growing them. I am assuming that it is necessary to monitor insulin levels in the diabetic who decides to add them to their supplement protocols. We wouldn’t want you to have an insulin overdose!
Note: The above information is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. Please consult a qualified health care professional for assistance in applying the information contained in this article.
References and Helpful Links:
- Growing Jerusalem Aritchokes: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-1-a.html
- Jerusalem artichoke Nutrition facts: http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2456/2
- The Sunchoke Diet: http://www.sunchoke.org
- What is FOS (FructoOligoSaccharide): http://naturalhealthtechniques.com/diet_nutritionsugar_substitutes.htm