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Chinese Artichokes (Stachys affinis syn. S. seiboldii) are an herbaceous member of the Mint Family (Lamiaceae), as you might guess from the typically mint-like (but sadly, not scented) leaves and square stems. Originate from China, they are grown for the delicious underground tubers, which are produced in abundance and have a mild flavour and a lovely crisp texture, a bit like radish only without the bite.
They are very easy to grow, and have a long history of cultivation for food in both China, where they are known by several names, and Japan, where they are known as Chorogi. They have also been cultivated in southern France, where they are known as Crosnes, after being introduced towards the end of the 19th Century. Other names include, Japanese Artichokes, Knotroot and Artichoke Betony.
The crunchy white roots can be eaten both raw and cooked. They are excellent in stir fries, but have also been used in casseroles, soups, and curries, or simply steamed with other vegetables. They’re also delicious simply steamed and served with butter and parsley, chervil or dill, or in a rich hollandaise sauce. In Japan they are traditionally pickled in sweet or salted vinegar, with purple perilla leaves which impart a bright, red colour to the roots. They are then served as a side dish or used as an eye-catching garnish. Apparently the roots can also be dried for use throughout the season, but this is something we have yet to try.
I have found plants happy in both full sun and partial shade. They like their feet wet and can be grown as marginal pond plants, but they are also quite forgiving in this respect, and quickly revive if they are given a good drink after a period of neglect. We generally grow them in a raised bed or several large pots as this makes them easier to harvest and contain – they have a tendency to spread and can be a bit thuggish if grown alongside less vigorous plants.They are pretty hardy plants and have successfully overwintered outdoors without any protection for the last 6 years.
The best time to harvest them is a few weeks after the above-ground parts have died down (usually late autumn to early winter). Once lifted, they don’t store particularly well, but left in the ground they will keep right through the winter, and can be harvested as and when you want them.