The lowly Jerusalem artichoke, neither an artichoke, nor from Jerusalem, is a great native plant to grow in the northeast. It is actuallya cousin of the sunflower, and often grows just as tall, but with several small flowers on each stalk. That might be the beauty of the JA, but the real value of growing them lies underground. Beneath the tall flowering stems lie the tubers, uglier than potatoes, but delicious, with a hint of the flavor of artichokes (thus, the name). Best of all, for those with diabetes, they may be used in lieu of potatoes as the starch breaks down into fructose rather than glucose.
Recipes and more info are here: http://www.specialtyproduce.com/index.php?item=2023
I look forward to harvesting these tasty tubers after the first frost. Right now, I am cutting off their little flower heads. Unfortuantely, they make a poor cut flower, killing themselves off by acidifying thier own water very quickly. Annika, having studied biology and begining chemistry, suggested that we find a way to neutralize the acid. We tried baking soda in the water, and it workd rather well; the flowers kept for several days. This is an easy demonstration for the kids to try--one vase (use a clear bottle or vase for best viewing) with baking soda, and one without. The water without the baking soda turns a nasty, acidic brown very quickly. The one with baking soda remains clear. If you do not stir the water after adding the baking soda, the acid forms a brown layer over the clear water. Make sure the stems are in the clear part for longest lasting blooms. The acidic water, after a few days, begins to small like a marsh--lots of decay going on in there!
We cut the flowers off so that the energy produced by the plant is stored in tubers rather than spent on flower production. We discard most of the flowers, but thanks to Annika's good idea, we now decorate the house with these lovely Jerusalem artichoke flowers!