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A close relative of Sunflowers and Jerusalem Artichokes, Helianthus strumosus, known in the US as the Pale-Leaved Woodland Sunflower, and in France and Belgium, as Helianthi, is a delicious, cold-hardy, perennial root vegetable. Although the plant originally hails from Canada and North America, where it was used by some native peoples, it has been cultivated in Europe since around 1850. We grow two varieties, one red and one white skinned. It is the latter, known as ‘Herman’, which we are currently offering for sale, although eventually we hope to offer both.
Herman has as been selected (although not by us) for high yield, and long, smooth tubers. This makes them easier to peel, and there is therefore less wastage than with the typically knobbly Jerusalem Artichokes. Otherwise, however, the roots (technically tubers) have a creamy, nutty flavour and can be used in all the ways you would use the latter. Raw, they are good grated and served with a vinaigrette. Cooked, they can be roasted, or cut into ‘rounds’ and sautéed with a little butter – particularly nice with salt, black pepper, parsley and a little lemon juice – or made into a delicious creamy soup – which is especially good with a little madras seasoning.
In its natural range it grows – as the name suggests – in light woodland, or in clearings and along the edges of more mature, dense woods. Unlike Jerusalem Artichokes, therefore, the delicious, edible tubers of Helianthi are produced in abundance even when grown in partial shade. They also flower, usually in late October, much more reliably than their cousins.
Plants can grow up to 2m, and at this height it can be helpful to give them some support. Although the above ground parts die back in winter, the plant itself can tolerate very low temperatures, and easily survives freezing in the ground. Despite this we prefer to grow them in raised beds or large pots, as it is a plant that can become quite thuggish in the garden or allotment and is best contained.