Grow it Yourself

We harvested our Jersusalem artichokes in GROW HQ in the last month and they’ve started to appear on the menu in the café. When I started growing first I was confused about the difference between Jerusalem and Globe artichokes and wondered if it was just different names for the same vegetable. They are in fact entirely different vegetables that bear little resemblance to each other. Jerusalem artichokes are actually part of the sunflower family, and when you grow them the family resemblance emerges. The plants grow to over 3m tall, producing yellow sunflower-like flowers and it’s actually the knobbly root or tuber of the plant that we harvest to eat. The tubers resemble root ginger, are brown in colour and about 7-10cm in length. The Globe artichoke is unrelated – it is a more ornamental affair, grown for the flowering globe that grows at the top of its stems (from which are gleaned the much-coveted artichoke heart).

Interestingly, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relationship whatsoever to Jerusalem. The name is thought to have come from Italian settlers in the US calling the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. Over time, girasole morphed in to Jerusalem.

They were first cultivated in north America and brought to Europe in the 1600’s and though originally celebrated for their taste they suffered from being almost too prolific and were later to be relegated to peasant or animal food. Their reputation reached a nadir during the 1940s when they were particularly associated with the deprivations of the 2nd World War. But in more recent times their star is on the rise again, particularly as a winter soup ingredient. Some research suggest they can improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics. In the kitchen they can even be used raw, since they have a nuttier and sweeter flavour than potatoes. The knobbly tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke are not to everyone’s liking and they have an unfortunate association with flatulence (often nicknamed fartichokes, rather unimaginatively it has to be said). The body can’t digest the inulin that’s in artichokes in the digestive system but breaks them down using bacteria in the colon – hence the flatulence, and the reason why you often see recipes that ferment them first (see recipe below).

There is much to recommend them to the grower. They tend to persist for years after being sown, which would lead you to believe that to grow them you can simply leave some behind in the soil to grow on the next year. You could do this, but the quality of the tubers will decline over time. They do better if you harvest them all, and replant the next year in well fertilised soil. They suffer no diseases, and are exceptionally prolific (unlike their globe artichoke namesakes).

Famously, there are some harsh word on artichokes in a 1621 book called Gerard’s Herbal; “Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.” But don’t let that put you off trying this excellent and delicately flavoured vegetable - a bit of exaggeration always attracts the reader’s attention!

The Basics – Growing Jerusalem Artichokes

Sow them exactly as you would spuds – get yourself some artichoke tubers (they might be trickier to come across than spuds – ask a fellow GIYer if they can give you a few tubers), make a hole about 15cm deep and drop a tuber in to it every 30cm in a row. Then backfill with soil. You will only need about 5 plants. Don’t worry about including them in any rotation – they can be grown wherever you have the space, but since they grow exceptionally tall, chose your site carefully – they will cast a shadow on their neighbours in the veggie patch.

Earth up the plants several times in the season to provide some support to the plant as it grows and also to increase yield. When they are 30cm tall, earth up to 15cm. In the autumn when the leaves go yellow cut the stems right down to ground level and compost them.

You can start harvesting artichokes in October or November and they will stay in the ground quite happily right through the winter. You can remove them and store in a box of sand in a cold (but frost free), dark shed. They will last until April this way. Left in the ground they will eventually succumb to slugs and they will probably prevent you from preparing the bed for whatever will be grown there next year. Make sure to remove absolutely every last tuber from the soil – otherwise you will be plagued with them growing back next year.

Recipe of the Week – Mellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle

Fermenting artichokes will reduce their ..ahem… windiness. I can’t say I’ve ever done a detailed experiment on this, but did find this pickle absolutely delicious.


• 1½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, thoroughly scrubbed, and cut into ½-inch dice
• 1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric
• 8 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 ½ tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 1½ cups water


Toss together the diced Jerusalem artichokes, the turmeric, the garlic, the ginger, and the cumin. Pack the mixture into a jar with a capacity of at least 6 cups. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Pour the brine over the Jerusalem artichokes; it will not cover them at first. Add a brine bag (a gallon freezer-weight plastic bag containing 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 3 cups water) or another suitable weight.

The next day the brine should cover the Jerusalem artichokes. If it doesn’t, add more brine mixed in the same proportions. Wait several days before tasting the pickle. I found it perfect after a week: The brine was sour, and the Jerusalem artichokes pleasantly, mildly spicy and still crunchy. When the pickle has fermented enough to suit your taste, store the jar in the refrigerator.


Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2018 – all rights reserved.

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