Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Helianthus tuberosus
Family: N.O. Compositae
Synonym: Sunflower Artichoke.
Habitat: The Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus, Linn.), now commonly cultivated in England for its edible tubers, another of the numerous Sunflowers, is a native of the North American plains, being indigenous in the lake regions of Canada, as far west as Saskatchewan, and from thence southward to Arkansas and the middle parts of Georgia.

Though it rarely blossoms in England, it flowers profusely in its native country (blooming also freely in South Africa), the flowers, however, being small and inconspicuous, produced just above the last leaves. Its name, Jerusalem Artichoke, does not, as it seems, imply that it grows in Palestine, but is a corruption of the Italian Girasola articiocco, the Sunflower Artichoke, Girasola meaning 'turning to the sun,' an allusion to the habit it is supposed to have in common with many of the Sunflower tribe. The North Italian word articiocco - modern carciofo - comes through the Spanish, from the Arabic Al-Kharshuf. False etymology has corrupted the word in many languages: it has been derived (though wrongly) in English from 'choke' and 'heart,' or the Latin hortus, a garden, and in French, the form artichaut has been connected with chaud, hot, and chou, a cabbage.

History: It appears to have been cultivated as an article of food by the Indians of North America before the settlement in that country of Europeans, and very soon attracted the attention of travellers. Sir J. D. Hooker, in the Botanical Magazine, July, 1897, gives the following account of its introduction: 'In the year 1617, Mr. John Goodyer, of Mapledurham, Hampshire, received two small roots of it from Mr. Franqueville of London, which, being planted, enablel him before 1621 "to store Hampshire." In October of the same year, Mr. Goodyer wrote an account of it for T. Johnson, who printed it in his edition of Gerard's "Herball," which appeared in 1636, where it is called Jerusalem Artichoke. Previous to which, in 1629, it had been figured and described under that name by Parkinson in his "Paradisus," and he also mentions it in his "Theatrum" in 1640. From the lastgiven date to the present time, the Jerusalem Artichoke has been extensively cultivated in Europe, but rather as a garden vegetable than a field crop, and has extended into India, where it is making its way amongst the natives under Hindoo, Bengali, and other native names.'

Parkinson speaks of it as 'a dainty for a queen.' When first introduced, the mode of preparation of the tubers was to boil them till tender, and after peeling, they were eaten sliced and stewed with butter, wine and spices. They were also baked in pies, with marrow, dates, ginger, raisins, sack, etc. Parkinson called them 'Potatoes of Canada,' because the French brought them first from Canada. Their flavour is somewhat sooty when cooked and not agreeable to everyone but they are very nutritious, and boiled in milk form an excellent accompaniment to roast beef.

The tuber, instead of containing starch like the potato, has the allied substance Inulin. The chief ingredients are water, 80 per cent. albuminoids, 2 per cent.; gum, known as Laevulin, 9.1 per cent.; sugar, 4.2 per cent.; inulin, 1.1 per cent.

Cultivation: In any odd bit of ground shaded or open, that is unsuitable for other vegetables, a crop of the tubers of Jerusalem Artichoke will always be obtained, though like other things, it pays for a good position and generous culture and the largest tubers will be produced in a light, rich soil.

The ground should be well dug over and if at all heavy, or poor, should be lightened by incorporating some sand with it enriched with well-rotted manure.

For planting, which may be done in February, but not later than March, small tubers should be chosen and indeed reserved for this purpose when the crop is taken up, but almost any part of a tuber will grow and form a plant. The sets should be planted in rows, 3 feet apart and at a distance of 18 inches from each other in the rows, they should be set at least 6 inches deep. As a rule, a great number of plants is produced from one tuber.

The ground should be kept clean by hoeing and as the plants grow in height, a little earth should be drawn up around the stem.

Cut the plants down when the leaves are decayed, but not before, otherwise the tubers will cease to grow. The tubers may be left in the ground till wanted for use. If taken up towards the end of November, they may be stored in sand or earth, but they must be covered, so that the light and air may be effectually excluded, otherwise they will be of a dark colour when cooked.

The white-skinned variety, 'New White Mammoth,' is to be recommended. The tubers have a clean, white skin, instead of the purplish-red tint of the old variety. They are also rounder in shape and not so irregular in form as the tubers of the red sort. This variety is equally hardy, being in no way liable to injury from frost.

Jerusalem Artichokes afford a useful screen for a wooden fence, when planted along the foot of it, but the more open the spot, the more likely they are to prosper. When once planted, the difficulty is to get the ground clear of them again, for the smallest tuber will grow. It is desirable to change the ground allotted to their culture about once in three years, for when they are permitted to remain too long on the same spot, the tubers deteriorate in size and quality.