Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, have a mixed reputation among gardeners. Some claim that they will always feed you, while others would never grow them in a food production garden.
After growing and using Sunchokes for several years now, it is time for an update. Let’s take a closer look at growing and using sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, how to make them less gasy, some recipe ideas, and preserving tips.
What are Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes?
Sunchokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem, nor with artichokes that’s why I prefer to call them Sunchokes. The botanical name is Helianthus tuberosus. They are from the Sunflower family but produce tubers much like potatoes.
The plants get 6-10 feet tall, depending on the variety and flower much like little sunflowers.
Sunchokes are a perennial plant, hardy to Zone 3.
The tubers are edible raw and in many dishes if you harvest them every year. The taste is mild, sweet, and crunchy, with a nutty flavor. The texture when cooked reminds me of zucchini or eggplant.
There are different varieties of sunchokes. I would suggest finding someone who grows them in your area, or at your local farmers market and planting those whose taste you like. Some greenhouses carry them. In Canada for example T&T Seeds. They have the white variety. There is also a red variety, Walkerlands are growing them (Picture credit).
Sunchokes are planted like potatoes by tubers. You can plant them in the fall before the ground freezes or in early spring as soon as the ground is workable.
When planting in the fall in zone 3 make sure to mulch the area with a good layer of leaves, wood chips, or straw.
Plant sunchokes 12 to 18 inches apart, 4 to 6 inches deep.
Sunchokes prefer full sun and loose, well-drained soil.
Personally, we grow sunchokes along fences in different spots of our perennial garden. They serve a triple purpose for us: a privacy screen, a flower, and an edible tuber that we can harvest in late fall or early spring before anything else is available.
Spring planting can also be done by planting just a piece with a growing eye on it. In the picture above I did an experiment, I actually dug up a tuber that was planted a few weeks prior and divided it. All of them grew and produced, which leads us to the next topic.
Sunchokes are invasive plants
Sunchokes will grow and multiply from the smallest piece left in the ground. Choose a site for sunchokes where they can spread a bit but not overtake your vegetable garden.
If in doubt use a raised bed with a 1/4″ wire mesh bottom. The hardware cloth stops the plants from running away. Just a raised bed without a wire mesh will not stop the aggressive grower from getting out of the box.
In some areas, sunchokes are on the invasive plant list and are not recommended to grow. In our Zone 3 garden we find that they do not survive winter so well without cover. So there is no danger for them to take over.
Caring for sunchokes during the summer
In our garden, the sunchokes don’t get much care. However, in a windy location, the tall plants might need some support.
Sunchokes are drought-tolerant but will produce better with a regular water supply. Personally, we mulch them to retain moisture, and water only the ones growing in the raised bed as needed.
The flowers at the end of the summer are quite showy. We enjoy them till the frost kills them off.
After the frost kills the flowers, cut the plant back to about 2 feet (0.61 m). Leave for another 2 weeks to harden the skin. You can harvest them all in the fall, or leave some in the ground for spring harvest.
Sunchokes taste best after they get some real frost, it seems that they are also better digestible then. We find that the best time to harvest sunchokes is just before the ground freezes.
Sunchokes can also be left in the ground till early spring, however, if you have moles or mice, the harvest might be partly gone by then.
Also even though they are said to be hardy to zone 3, in our experience they do not survive the winter without cover. A good snow cover is enough, or just a layer of leaves and mulch.
For harvesting use a spading fork and gently lift the soil. Try to catch all the tubers, those that are attempting to run away too. Not sure though if that is possible, there always seem to be some that are overlooked and will only show next spring.
When ready to use, scrub the tubers well, now they are ready to be used.
Make sunchokes better digestible (not so gaseous)
Sunchokes are so yummy and productive, but also for some people a bit troublesome, if you ever had any you might know what I mean. Nevertheless, they deserve to be enjoyed.
Sunchokes have a reputation to produce gas because they are high in soluble fiber (inulin). Soluble fiber is good for us, but the side-effect (gas) can be unpleasant. Not everyone reacts to sunchokes, if you never had any, find out gently by having just a little bit.
There are some options that may help if you react with bloating to sunchokes.
Leaving them in the ground till spring can help some but does not get rid of the problem completely.
Slicing them up for a recipe, then soak them overnight in salt water (2 quarts of water 1 teaspoon salt). Then rinse, cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Now pour out the water and use the sunchokes for a recipe or freeze them for later. We liked this method.
Soaking the sunchokes in salted water till the gas comes out. Replace the water regularly and keep them bubbling till they stop. It could take a week or more. Reasoning that I think they would be fermented by then.
Boiling for 15 minutes in water with added acidity such as lemon or vinegar should help. I have not tried it, the taste is said to change, so I wasn’t sure if we wanted it.
Fermenting is also said to help, if you like fermented food that’s an option. In our experience, it does not take out the gas completely.
Herbs like savory, bay leaf, and cumin can be used to help with digestion.
In our experience what helps the most is to go light on the sunchokes. Use them for the taste by adding small amounts to a dish.
Using sunchoke tubers in recipes
Sunchokes can be eaten raw, cooked, baked, pickled, and fermented.
They are so tasty air-fried. Just toss them in some olive oil and fry till done. They go well with artichokes and tomato sauce.
They are yummy baked with some olive oil for 30-40 minutes. It is best to add them to a vegetable tray as part of a meal, not a whole side dish. Remember, they can produce a lot of gas. Combined with other root vegetables like beets, carrots, or potatoes, they make a yummy addition.
Sunchokes are also very delicious in vegetable curries, soups, and stews. A little goes a long way. We love the taste and look forward to enjoying them. I just add a tuber or two to a favorite recipe.
Sunchocke chips taste delicious as well. Slice them thinly and bake at 350F till crispy. It will take 10-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the slices. The chips can be added to soups and salads to add some crispiness.
Sunchokes are not as easy to preserve, but there are several options. If you can use the longer harvesting window to keep them fresh in the ground, thats the best way.
Storing sunchokes. You can not cure and store sunchokes like you would potatoes. The thin skin dries very quickly. Sunchokes will keep in a bag or container in the fridge for about 10 days. We have stored them in the cold room, buried in peat moss or sand. This way they store for a few weeks.
Freezing sunchokes. Freezing sunchokes is easy, you can do it in two ways. Blunch for 1-3 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Freeze them on a sheet first, so you can use them a little bit at a time. After they are frozen put them is freezer bags or containers. They will be good for up to 3 months, and lose their texture as they store in the freezer.
Dehydrating sunchokes. A second option to freeze sunchokes is to slice or chop them smaller and dehydrate them first, after that freeze them. They will need about 10 hours in a dehydrator at 140F. Or use the oven or airier to dihydrate. Just like zucchini, without all the moisture they will last better. If you are ready to use them, soak them in hot water for about half an hour, or add them directly to a dish if the recipe has enough liquid in it.
Ferment and pickle sunchokes. Fermented sunchokes taste yummy, but they also do not last long. Fermenting small batches is helpful. The Fermented Vegetables book has a recipe for that. Or just make your own creation, fermenting is simple.
Do you grow Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes? What is your favorite way to use them?
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When we moved into this house in N.W. Montana there were some sunchokes. But they never flower. And I have tried digging them up and can not dig down far enough to reach the roots. Do you have an suggestion for me?
It’s possible that those are very old plants that just keep coming back. I would try to get to the tubers and replant the best in early spring. Or you can kill the plant by cutting at soil level whatever comes up. It might take a season. After that, you can get new tubers and plant them.
Kathryn Hutton says
Rosie Goaty says
They are hugely successful in our very harsh climate (although I have never had them bloom). Since we are high desert, they do not take over anyplace that isn’t watered (ie anything outside the garden rows). I don’t care for the strong artichoke flavor, but my goats and cow love them as much as apples! Our season is so short that sunflowers and corn (even short season) are not reasonable options for animal feed. Sunchokes to the rescue! They produce far more animal edible biomass than turnips or any other option I have tried so far. I just pull up the whole pant, dig around for extra tubers (planting back one for next year), and feed the whole thing as a supplement/treat to their pasture browse. Plus zero seed cost and they make a nice shady hedgerow for native bug predators like toads, snakes, ladybugs, and praying mantis. They have a permanent place on our grow list.
Thank you for sharing. Whatever makes a goat happy, right!
I have read that spring dug is lower in inulin (and gas) than fall dug. I got my start from a natural food store that carried them and a few gave me a bushel. Mine grow 12 feet tall in a few clumps on north edge of garden. Flowered very late in season. Just before freeze. Zone 3. Like them best sliced in stir fry at end so still crunchy. Or with other root veggies roasted. Thanks for your newsletters. Very helpful to a gardener transactioning from zone 5 to zone 3
Happy to hear that what we share is helpful. It does seem that spring dug artichokes are tastier and better digestible.
Do you harvest the sunchokes in spring before they start new growth?
Yes, some in fall before the ground freezes, but most in spring before they start growing. The spring harvest is a bit sweeter and better digestible we find.
Mom made sweet pickles from sunchokes when I was a child in Georgia in the 1950’s….sweet and crunchy. Thanks for this information…always good to know when a plant will take over the garden…because I’m planning on growing some next year and pickling them myself.
I have read about pickling the sunchokes, would really like to learn to do that. Do you have a recipe from your mom?
I’ve got three varieties I’ve gathered locally in west-central Pennsylvania. One grows to 12′ and is a white/tan skinned smooth obnoxious, nasty tasting tuber. Another grows around 6′, is very knobby, white/tan skinned very tasty. The next grows up to 8′ and is a mostly smooth red skinned tuber with a slightly nuttier taste than the knobby ones. Picture small red skinned sweet potatoes. We can most of our fall harvest as pickles and we cheat. We use Mrs. Wages pickle mixes.I like them better than cukes!
Those varieties sound interesting. Pickling is on my list to try. I tried fermenting in the fall. They are tasty at first but get soft with time.
Hi Blaine, I have the white variety, that is all I’ve seen down here in Louisiana zone 9. Your red variety sounds like it’s more useful! Do you have any idea which variety it is? Or remember where you found it?
Hi Anna, do you think it is necessary to fertilize the plants? I’ve dug them “all” up a couple of times in the late summer to stop them from taking over the garden areas but they manage to keep coming back and still spread. Trouble is now they are no longer flowing and the plants struggled this summer in the drought even when I watered them. They grew slowly and never flowered or got very tall. What should I do? I used to get a decent size of tubers from them but not last year – they were small and very knobby which makes them hard to clean. Thank you
I have a small cheap electric chipper and I chip the tops and scatter them over the patch after pulling them up and before I go digging for deeper roots. Mixing the chipped tops in has loosened and amended my soil very well over the years and the tubers get better and better. One patch is on an old barn apron, a horrid mix of clay and shale. Today it’s lose and very productive. The only other treatments it gets is Sluggo for the slugs and a light scatter of lime maybe twice over the years. I’m in zone 5 and get good moderate rainfall in west-central Pennsylvania. There’s no harm at all in adding some composted matter and fertilizer. There are a few varieties that don’t flower well and they all do much better at flowering when they’re in full sun.
By the way, I make wine out of the flowers. Just boiled flower broth + sugar and more water with a few raisins for natural fruit yeast. DO NOT use baker’s yeast – yuck! Wine yeast would be OK, but I get good results with just raisins. I’ve made wine from the tubers too. It’s a much stronger earthier wine, not great for drinking, but it’s a good cooking wine and both the flower and tuber wines blend very well with fruit wines giving them a nice earthy tone.
The green leaves have trace amounts of salicylic acid (raw aspirin) and coumarin (raw coumadin/warfarin). Native Americans dried the leaves for tea for aches and pains. They can also be used just like grape leaves in Mediterranean wraps. My red skinned variety has HUGE leaves, as big as three of my hands! The others have smaller leaves. You’d have to triple them to use them for cooking wraps.
I always wait until the tops are fully dead and dried before pulling, that lets all the upper plant energy retreat into the tubers.
I’ve also dried raw tuber chips and ground them in a food processor for flour. It’s best mixed with other flours since it’s heavy like Buckwheat flour. Use it straight and you can almost use your baked goods for door stops!!
Love all the information that you are sharing, thank you!