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Search Results for ' Helianthus tuberosus'

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Keywords: Quirky, Helianthus tuberosus

PAL Question:

Is Jerusalem artichoke a native? Did local Native American tribes have uses for it? I grow it, and friends have suggested that it is a good alternative to potatoes for people with diabetes because it has a lower glycemic index.

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Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is considered native to most of North America, as this map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows.

The book Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary by Daniel Moerman (Timber Press, 2010) mentions uses of the plant's tubers by numerous tribes, none of them in our Pacific Northwest area. Some tribes, such as the Chippewa, used the tubers raw, while others like the Dakota boiled them (and noted that their overuse caused flatulence, about which more later!). Several tribes (Huron, Lakota) only used the tubers during periods of famine to fend off starvation.

We can't speak to the medical question of whether Jerusalem artichokes would be better for someone with diabetes than the starch found in potatoes. You are correct, though, that this plant which is in the sunflower family contains a polysaccharide called inulin which does not cause "rapid insulin production" the way that some high-glycemic index starches do. The American Diabetes Association says that it's not necessarily true that potatoes are problematic--it is more about portion size and developing a balanced diet.

Another thing to consider is that not everyone has an easy time digesting the inulin in Jerusalem artichokes. Although culinary use of sunchokes has become quite a trend lately, some chefs will not serve it in their restaurants, according to Bon Appetit magazine, and the tubers have acquired the unhappy nickname 'fartichoke.' Plants for a Future database refers somewhat more delicately to inulin intolerance (which may be genetic): "[inulin] tends to ferment in their guts and can cause quite severe wind."

As you probably know, Helianthus tuberosus is quite easy to grow, and proliferates like a weed (as confirmed by this Whatcom County garden blogger). It might be good to confine it to one part of your garden if you can.

Season All Season
Date 2014-01-02
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June 24 2013 12:55:25