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Jerusie Digging Time!

It’s Jerusalem artichoke digging time around here. If your ground is not yet frozen you might want to harvest some too. (Before the voles eat ‘em all!)
Jerusalem artichoke is a sunflower, not from Jerusalem, and not an artichoke, but other than that it’s well named! The name Jerusalem artichoke, is supposedly a corruption of the Italian, Girasola articiocco; Girasola referring to the sunflower’s reputation of always turning to face the sun. Its scientific name, Helianthus tuberosus, means “tuberous sunflower.” (That really is a good name.) Those crisp, crunchy tubers are one of our favorite wild foods. In fact we let ’em run wild all around our place. (Be careful about where you plant them– they can take over your garden.)
Originally Jerusies were native to the central portion of North America, but due to extensive cultivation by both Native Americans and settlers, they are now naturalized in most temperate areas of North America, and parts of Europe and Asia.
During late summer or early autumn, this perennial sunflower can be found in full bloom at the edges of fields and roadsides, usually where there is fairly rich, light soil. The plant usually stands from six to more than ten feet tall on single slender stalks. The flower is about two or three inches across and looks more like a yellow daisy than the large, seed-packed head of the cultivated seed-sunflower. But the problem is that they are hard to recognize because at that time of year there are dozens of tall, yellow, daisy-like flowers blooming (that botanists call DYC’s –“damn yellow composites”). How do we recognize the true “Jerusies” from the rest of the DYC’s?
The Jerusalem artichoke’s leaves and stem are covered with stiff, almost prickly hairs. The botanical word for this is “scurfy.” It’s onomatopoetic; if you rub your fingers across the leaves and listen carefully you will hear, “scurf, scurf.” (Who would have thought you can use your ears to identify a plant!) The coarseness of the leaves and the prickly hairs on the stem are one of the best identification points short of taking a shovel to the roots.
The other distinctive characteristic is that the leaves are opposite at the lower part of the stem, (meaning that wherever one leaf comes out of the stalk there is another leaf directly opposite). The leaves are alternate at the upper portion of the stem.
Since the tubers are not mature and ready to harvest until the plants die back, it’s particularly challenging, when you’re facing a tangle of dead, dry, leafless stalks, to know which ones are the coveted Jerusalem artichokes.
To identify the Jerusalem artichoke stalks that have died back, examine them to look for the bristly stubble and the leaf scars that go from opposite to alternate. (In the photo below you can see the upper two stalks from the upper parts of the plant show alternate leaf scars, while the two stalks below from the lower portion of the plant show opposite leaf scars.
We scrub the tubers soon after we gather them. We usually eat the tubers raw, either grated into a salad, or simply munched with a dip. Sometimes we use them as a major ingredient in kimchi. They have about the same food value as potatoes, but instead of containing starch they contain an allied substance called inulin, which makes this tuber a valuable food for diabetics and others who strive for a low carbohydrate diet. But the drawback is that they promote flatulence in some folks, (who call them “fartachokes”). Cooking is the best remedy for that problem. They can be boiled, baked, or roasted. They have a distinctive, somewhat sooty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a potato with a more watery texture.
Jerusies will keep for months in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They also keep well when reburied in soil.


cover-wildrootsCan you believe it? My first book is about to celebrate its 40th year! And, amazingly enough, it’s still in print! It still has lots of info about edible, medicinal, and otherwise useful and interesting wild plants and their underground parts–and best of all–it has portraits of more than 50 of your favorite roots! (The Jerusalem artichoke root drawing at the top of this blog post is from the book.)
The book was originally titled, ROOTS, and it came out in 1976, the same year as Alex Haley’s book by the same title! (Nobody ever offered to make a movie out of my book!) However, in 1995, Healing Arts Press reissued the book and changed the title to WILD ROOTS, A Forager’s Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Roots, Tubers, Corms, and Rhizomes of North America. And it’still available today. It’s on sale I till January 1st. I’ll knock $2 of the retail price and let’em go for $15 until the first of the year. It’s an underground classic! Get ‘em while you can!

Feel free to check out the products page of my
website to take advantage of the rest of the


CD Sale! (8 titles to choose from)
All single CDs: $12.50; Double CDs $15

DVD Sale!
An Evening with Doug Elliott

Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Normally $20 — NOW only $15
Swarm Tree Book Sale!
Swarm Tree: Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life
Following tracks, messing with bees, chasing butterflies, stalking deer, tickling trout, and picking up pawpaws—and hitchhikers. This lively collection by celebrated storyteller Doug Elliott will delight readers with its blend of natural history and heartfelt, hilarious takes on life. Whether tracking skunks, philosophizing over dung beetles, negotiating with the police, or reading divine script on the back of a trout, Elliott brings a sense of wonder and humor to every story. His broad scientific and cultural knowledge of the Appalachians and beyond is a treasure. Join him on this down to earth spiritual journey as he probes creation, asks the deeper questions, and reveals fascinating details of the great narrative of life that connect us all. Dive deeply into the richness of the natural world; climb high into the tree of life, and return–with amazing tales, humorous insights, and surprising truths that explore and illuminate, and celebrate the confluence of nature, humanity and spirit.
Normally $18 — NOW only $15

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