Jerusalem artichokes are the one plant preppers should be growing even if they are not cultivating another single thing.
Of course, it is highly recommended to grow your own groceries, but sadly many don’t think they have enough room (they do if they get clever even in an urban environment) and skip this vital part of their food security plan entirely.
Sunchokes, the other common name for Jerusalem artichokes, are capable of growing 20 pounds of nutrient-rich produce PER PLANT.
This is the plant will not only feed people, but can (should) be used to feed livestock, as well. Keeping the animals you are raising for meat, milk, and eggs fed during a long-term disaster helps prevent your family’s dinner plates from ever going empty.
History of Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes are not actually artichokes, and do not come from Jerusalem. A Roman Catholic cardinal dubbed this bountiful plant “Girasole Articocco” way back in 1617. Girasole is Latin for sunflower – which these plants do resemble and share a heritage with.
The cardinal picked some of the sunchoke tubers from his garden and presented them to the Pope – who became enamored with their flavor. His holiness gifted copious amounts of plants to friends so they too could enjoy the taste of Jerusalem artichoke tubers.
This plant became quite popular around Rome but did not catch the attention of other regions of Europe until the 17th century.
During the next two centuries French chefs at high-end restaurants – particularly Louis Eustache Ude, began creating Palestone soup with the tubers. This traditional French soup remains quite popular in the country, today.
It was not until World War II that Jerusalem artichokes became a more mainstream and traditionally cultivated crop in Europe. Because food was so scarce, sunchokes grow so quickly and produce such massive crops, local people began both growing and eat a lot more of the produce from this plant.
Native Americans were also keenly aware of the value of Jerusalem artichokes. They cultivated this perennial plant along their seasonal migration routes to make certain that all the members of the tribe would be able to eat and have the energy to keep going not only if game became scarce, but even during the winter months. The Native Americans dubbed the Jerusalem artichokes, “sunroots.”
What Exactly Is a Tuber?
A tuber is a plant that grows from a swollen part of the plant stem beneath the ground, like potatoes. You can see a photo of some sunchoke tubers just below:
Jerusalem Artichoke Space and Care
While sunchokes can be falsely dismissed as a nuisance or even an invasive weed, these tuber perennials simply possess too many positive benefits to harnessed with such a nasty label.
If your survival homestead, prepper retreat, or bug in location backyard is not large enough to let this fast spreading plant range unchecked, simply prune the Jerusalem artichokes to keep them from growing with reckless abandon.
The massive yield these plants offer far outweigh the time the pruning chore will take.
If you have honeysuckle or greenbriars on your property, you already know how quickly a single plant can claim an area.
Having ample space on our homestead, we merely plant one Jerusalem artichoke plant, and allow it to fill all the available space around it to encourage the highest yield possible.
Sunchokes fall into the “plant it and forget it” variety of plants. Unless you need to prune back growth, there is really no tending needed when growing Jerusalem artichokes. They are exceptionally hardy, weed resistant, and can thrive in nearly any type of soil.
These plants thrive in full sun and can double as natural fencing to help provide a privacy barrier.
During the fall through the early weeks of winter after you have either harvested the tubers or are allowing them to remain stored underground until needed, livestock can dine upon all above ground parts long after the green grass of summer has disappeared.
Jerusalem Artichoke Facts
- Jerusalem artichokes have a delicious sweet, yet nutty flavor.
- The sunchokes will have a crisp texture when biting into them in their raw state.
- These perennials are members of the sunflower family and a part of the Helianthus genus.
- Sunchokes closely resemble ginger.
- The texture of the tubers is somewhat like that of water chestnuts.
- The tubers typically range from two to four inches in size, and have a very thick skin.
- Jerusalem artichoke plants grow to be 15 feet tall, on average.
- The leaves and the flower petals on sunchoke plants look very similar to those on sunflower plants but are notably smaller in size.
- The attractive yellow petals on the flowers do not come into bloom until the final weeks of summer.
- Sunchoke plants grow throughout the continental United States – especially in areas along both the Mississippi River and Ohio River.
- The flesh of sunchokes is usually a shade of orange or ivory shade. Regardless of the exterior color, the inside flesh of the tubes will remain white.
- Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten either raw of cooked any time of the year.
- There are two prime growing season for sunchokes – spring and fall. Tubers harvested at either time are typically the most crisp and delicious.
- Sunchokes are also a rich source of inulin. Because of this lack of carbohydrates, the tubers have been regarded as the “diabetic’s potato.”
- Topinambours and earth apples are also nicknames for the Jerusalem artichoke plant.
- Just one sunchoke tuber boast 643 milligrams of potassium.
- The fiber percentage of Jerusalem artichokes is higher than nearly every other plant that grows natively in the United States.
- Sunchokes also contain significant percentages of electrolytes, trace minerals, and protein.
- Jerusalem artichokes have traditionally been used as a base in many natural home remedies due to their trace mineral, inulin, and electrolytes content.
- Inulin may increase the growth of the good bacteria, bifidobacteria. This type of bacteria may help prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and might help decrease the growth of some carcinogenic enzymes.
- Jerusalem artichoke tubers also contain thiamin, pyridoxine vitamin B complex vitamins, pnathothenic acid, folates, and riboflavin.
- Sunchokes may help reduce blood pressure thanks to a potentially countering effect on the sodium that is consumed into the body via the food we eat.
- Jerusalem artichokes contain more protein than soybeans, wheat, corn, and all other bean varieties.
- The leaves on the perennial plant, as well as the stems, boast a 28 percent protein count – about twice the amount of protein found in an ear of corn.
Why This Is an Excellent Survival Garden Plant
As noted above, sunchokes are capable of producing as many as 200 pounds of tubers. Even a plant that does not produce a robust yield still typically has 75 pounds of tubers.
Since sunchockes grow beneath the ground and the plant portions on top look like mere sunflower type weeds that are not generating produce, there also offer a distinct OPSEC value, as well.
Common garden pests like squirrels, rabbits, deer, and birds will not be able to steal your harvest from this plant like they can many traditional gardening crops.
Jerusalem artichokes reseed all on their own, so there is no need to cultivate seeds indoors or be worried about buying new plants for the next growing season.
Because sunchokes spread so quickly and easily, they smother out any weed growth around them – making them the ultimate low (in my personal experience,’no’) maintenance, crop plant.
Not only can sunchokes grow in almost any type of soil, they will thrive where so many other types of crops absolutely will not. Jerusalem artichokes are also incredibly drought tolerant.
Your survival crop of this variety of plant should be able to sustain itself hardily during extended times of no rain – without causing you to haul water that may be needed for daily family use, out to the growing plants.
Keeping livestock well fed during a long-term disaster can be highly problematic. Of course you can stockpile copious amounts of grain feed and hay – if you have enough storage space, but those are finite supplies.
Even if you have enough space and the equipment to bale your own hay, fuel stockpiles will eventually dwindle during a TEOTWAKI event.
Sticking to an OPSEC plan may also negate the ability to be seen cultivating hay because doing so will alert anyone who can see or hear your running the equipment know you have livestock on your property.
Growing Jerusalem artichokes to feed the horses, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs, and poultry birds requires no noisy equipment, extra man power, or unnecessary exposure to people who could be passing by your hay fields.
All you need to do to harvest the sunchokes is use a machete. The stalks can be fed fresh, stood up along a pole or tree to dry, or chopped into smaller pieces to dry.
The Jerusalem artichokes themselves can also be fed to the livestock. Pigs and cows tend to eat them whole, but horses and smaller livestock should be fed lightly chopped up before being given as a feed to eliminate or reduce choking hazards.
The robust leaves, blossoms, and plant stems that are ready for harvest during the latter weeks of fall can easily serve as a hay supplement for livestock when grazing grass is no longer possible.
You can plant sunchokes in a hog pen and allow the animals to root under the ground to dig up the Jerusalem artichoke tubers on their own, as well.
Although these perennial plants can grow nearly anywhere, they are recommended for planting in USDA Agricultural Zone 3 through 9.
If you live in an area with an exceptionally short growing season, like Alaska, you can start the tubers indoors, and transplant them into the ground later – but you should expect a reduce yield of about 75 pounds of food per plant.
Plant the Jerusalem artichokes just as you would potatoes. Each chunked piece of the tubers that you purchase must have an “eye” when it is planted in the soil. Typically, each tuber you purchase to grow will have at least two if not four, eyes.
Sunchoke tubers are best planted after the final threat of a hard frost has passed in the spring. In most growing zones throughout the continental United States, the tubers are planted sometimes between the end of March into the early weeks of April.
Jerusalem artichokes can be planted in ground that is still cold – as long as it is not too hard for you to dig into. I highly recommend breaking up any hard dirt to make the nutrients it contains more accessible to the freshly planted tuber. I often put a little bit of rich compost into the cold holes to ensure the plants get off to an excellent start.
The sunchoke tubers should be planted between four to six inches deep directly into the ground or a 5-gallon container pot. While the plants must be pruned regularly if cultivated in planters, they do still thrive in such a growing area – making cultivating them more feasible for small space preppers.
When planting in a traditional ground plot or along a fence line, space the Jerusalem artichoke tubers roughly one foot apart.
Because I allow our plants to grow unchecked and help create a thick visual barrier wherever they are planted, I space the tubers about five feet apart to give them ample growing room.
The perennial plants definitely prefer full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
It takes approximately 90 days for a sunchoke plant to mature and be ready for harvesting.
When growing sunchokes in a hotter or tropical climate, planting them in a shady spot might be highly advantageous. A reduced yield may occur in such climates, but a bountiful harvest can still be expected.
When growing Jerusalem artichokes in a colder climate, I highly recommend mulching around the plants when they are young to better protect them from both the wind chill at the start of the growing season and any unexpected late frost.
Planting Jerusalem artichokes in a traditional garden row is fine, but allow the plants their own section of the garden to do so.
When planting alongside conventional plants, the sunchokes will block the sun received as they grow, and may spread so much that an adjacent row of crops becomes smothered.
Sunchokes are a fine companion crops for both pole beans and corn. Native Americans often grew all three of these crops in near proximity to bolster enhanced production by each.
Jerusalem Artichoke Varieties
- Sugarball – Sunchokes of this variety are among the smallest. Even with the less size substantial Sugarballs taste just as good. The yield per plant will likely be less than 200 pounds when cultivating the Sugarball variety of Jerusalem artichokes.
- Fuseau – This type of sunchoke is known to have a smoky and robust flavor. The tubers that are produced by the Fuseau are both rather large and smooth. It is not uncommon for this type of Jerusalem artichoke to produce more than 200 pounds of produce annually.
- White French Mammoth – Tubers from this variety of Jerusalem artichokes are very knobby and especially large. The only downside with White French Mammoth Jerusalem artichokes is the extra time it takes to peel them due to their texture – but not everyone chooses to peel sunchokes before either eating them raw, or cooking with them.
How to Harvest Jerusalem Artichokes
- The inulin content in the Jerusalem artichokes peaks twice each year, during the spring and fall. If the tubers are being grown as a potato substitute for a diabetic or for their potential natural home remedy value, it is best to harvest them at this time.
- You will easily be able to tell that the sunchoke plant has matured and the tubers are large enough to harvest when the flowers have fallen off and the stalks are tilting over. You can choose to harvest the above ground level portion of the plant for livestock feed at this time, and allow the tubers to remain in the cool ground for far long so you can harvest them fresh on an as needed basis.
- Mature Jerusalem artichoke tubers can remain in the ground and generally be safe to eat as long as the plant itself is not showing any sings of wilting, mildewing, rotting, or disease. Some long-time Jerusalem artichoke growers staunchly maintain that the longer the tuber is left in the dirt the sweeter its taste becomes. I have known folks who allow the tubers to remain in the ground for nearly an entire year before harvesting them.
- If the tubers are frozen when harvested, they are no longer safe for the family to eat, and should either be fed to livestock or composted. Never feed a tuber that is showing signs of disease, rot, or mildew to any animals.
- To harvest the tuber, just dig them up like you would potatoes either with a tractor attachment or manually.
- Do not wash the Jerusalem artichoke tubers until the are being prepared for either a food dish or a home remedy. The tubers will turn mushy, and become discolored quickly, just like potatoes or apples.
- Once harvested, the tubers can keep in a root cellar for months like carrots and potatoes. If you do not have a root cellar, they can be kept for at least weeks in an unheated garage or basement when stored loosely in a crate. The Jerusalem artichokes can also be stored in a refrigerator for at least one month – longer if they are placed in a plastic sack that has ventilation holes poked into it.
Although no crop you are going to plant is one hundred percent protected against destructive insects and plant diseases, the Jerusalem artichoke sure does come close.
They are not prone to destruction even when Japanese beetles invade your growing space. I have experienced a yield reduction when a beetle infestation is severe, but none so large that growing a waste of my time.
These plants are truly the most weather resistant of any I have ever grown. Not only will Jerusalem artichokes able to withstand drought conditions, they also continue to thrive when lightly flooded or severe periods of heavy rain occur.
A cramped growing area or a lack of consistent sunlight are really the only environmental elements that seem to elicit a negative growing and crop yield response from these plants.
Unless the Jerusalem artichokes are subjected to more than light flooding or a lack of sunlight that can cause mildew or mold to grow directly on the plant, they can withstand any common plant disease that typically presents in their designated agricultural growing zone.
Even Jerusalem artichoke plants that do develop mildew or other signs of rotting can still produce some type of a yield in many cases.
How To Eat and Use Jerusalem Artichokes
- Wash the tubers in cool water, and peel them to use them as substitute for mashed potatoes, or in a recipe that calls form them – like my Christmas candy favorite, potato candy. Remember, the tubers boast far less moisture than potatoes, and contain zero starch – which may mean an adjustment to cooking time is required when being used as a potato substitute.
- One of the most popular ways to eat Jerusalem artichokes is to roast them. Their smoky flavor is exceptionally delicious when the tubers are lightly coated with your favorite seasonings.
- You can eat the washed and peeled or unpeeled tubers raw as a single survival food source or use to make a foraged salad.
- The tubers can be sauteed with onions and garlic and your favorite spices, and eaten as a side dish or combined with other typical saute ingredients to make an entire meal. Spices that are paired well with tubers include black pepper, garlic, paprika, and oregano.
- They can also be tossed into a casserole to add in extra flavor and texture.
- The suncoke tubers can be juiced and make a pleasantly sweet and refreshing drink that has traditionally been used in making mead or wine – but juicing they hard little tubers is a lot of hard work.
Jerusalem artichokes are not traditionally grown garden crops, therefore they may be difficult to locate at a local garden center.
Finding the tubers at a larger online garden retailer or Amazon is typically quite easy. The tubers are usually sold by the pound and can commonly range in price from $15 to $25 per bag.