We first discovered these wonderful perennial tubers several years ago in my never-ending quest to plant new vegetables. They are related to sunflowers, and look a lot like them. But it gets better. They actually smell like chocolate, and taste something like water chestnuts.
Can it get any cooler than that?
Well, yes. They are very easy to grow, eat and store.
Simply plant the tubers in early spring by cutting the chokes to one or two eyes per piece and planting them four to five inches deep and about a foot apart. Be sure of where you want them, because they are difficult to kill. Consider growing them in a large barrel, because in some places they can become intrusive as they spread by their roots.
We planted a few on opposite sides of our roadside garden. They really do look lovely when they are in bloom, and attract much needed pollinators.
Here in USDA Zone 5/6 they start to bloom early in August. Although you can harvest late summer to fall, the sunchokes taste better if they get hit with a little frost. The first sign they are ready to harvest is when the stalks begin to lean over.
Use them as you would water chestnuts, fresh in salads or cooked in stir fry. They can be kept frozen, refrigerated or in cool storage; just don’t let them dry out. They make a great substitute for potatoes when they are fresh, especially for anyone with diabetes. The inulin they produce does not turn into sugar like starches from other vegetables when they are fresh. And that is the way we prefer to eat them. Many other gardeners have told us they also add them to soups and stews, which sounds pretty good too.
Facts about sunchokes
Botanical name: Helianthus tuberosus
Yield: One choke, broken and planted will yield many more. Perennial in most areas, with increasing harvests.
Plant height: Well over 6 feet.
Harvest: Best after frost.
Storage: Freeze or store cold.
Gardening Jones is a Pennsylvania-based master gardener. Read her other Horticulture posts here and learn more at gardeningjones.com/.
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