Sunroot use among First Nations

Galloway, Brent BGalloway at
Tue Feb 8 23:17:12 UTC 2000

Interesting e-mail about the sunchoke and your research and development on
it.  I can't contribute much, but I did find the plant and its name in
Upriver Halkomelem.  The elders called it 'wild artichoke' and showed me
samples from Sardis and Seabird Island, which I dried in a plant press and
took to Nancy Turner to help me identify.  As I suspected from the botany
books, it was Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).  The Upriver
Halkomelem word for it is xa'xakw' (where both x's should be underlined in
the Sto':lo writing system used in the Fraser Valley, showing that they are
uvular, the first a should have an acute accent showing it has high tone and
is equivalent to digraph/ash, and the last kw' is for a glottalized
labialized velar stop.  The literal meaning is probably 'wedged in'.  It is
one of several kinds of "Indian potato" according to the elders.  It has an
edible root or bulb.  Could be eaten raw, cooked or dried.  Grew on Seabird
Island and by Chehalis, within their (Sto':lo) territory.  (Sto':lo in the
orthography has an o [phonemically and phonetically [a], with an acute
accent over it (high phonemic tone), followed by : for phonemic length, and
the final o should have a macron over it [o].  This is written up in my
Upper Sto':lo Ethnobotany, published by Coqualeetza Education Training
Centre in 1982 and used as a teacher's guide in the Sto':lo Si'tel Indian
studies curriculum used in the Fraser Valley school system for a number of
years (maybe even still used there). I'm doing some work in field methods
course this semester with Leona Kroeskamp on Assiniboine and I will ask her
if she knows the plant and knows a term for it in Assiniboine.
				Hope this helps.
Brent Galloway

	-----Original Message-----
	From:	Terry J. Klokeid [SMTP:klokeid at]
	Sent:	Tuesday, February 01, 2000 2:00 AM
	To:	siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU
	Subject:	Sunroot use among First Nations

	Dear colleagues:

	I have a small seed selling operation and one of the plants I carry
is the
	sunroot, Helianthus tuberosus.

	I am hoping to obtain more information about the use of this plant
	Indians of Canada and the USA, as well as leads on the etymology of
	name 'sunroot'.

	A member of the sunflower family, this plant has a tall stalk,
similar to
	that of the sunflower, Helianthus annuus. Some varieties of sunroot,
in a
	suitable climate, produce small flowers similar to the sunflower,
though no
	viable seeds have ever been documented. Instead, the sunroot
	through its underground tubers  There are many dozens of varieties
of the
	plant, with tubers ranging in size from small carrot to small
pumpkin, and
	colours from bright white to tan to brown to red. Flavours vary just
	much (as my seed catalogue demonstrates).

	You may know the sunroot under another name such as Jerusalem
artichoke, or
	sunchoke, or topinambo(u)r.

	The sunroot is a native plant of Canada and adjacent parts of the

	While its homeland is the eastern half of this country and its
neighbour to
	the south, in Algonquian and Iroquoian territory, there is some
	that sunroots were used by First Nations as far west as the Salish
	where I live.

	If anyone on this list has information about use of sunroots amomg
	Nations, I would be most grateful to hear from them.

	When Samuel de Champlain was discovered on the shores of what are
now the
	Maritime provinces, he was given some tubers to take back to Europe.
	Somehow the plant got confused with the tropical Calathea aliciae,
	hence the French name, 'le topinambour', variously attributed to
Arawak or
	Carib; possibly it is the same in both languages.

	When sunroot tubers reached London via a Dutch farm at Ter Neusen,
	rhyming slang came up with the humorous name 'artichoke of
	(The folk etymology, which derives 'Jerusalem' from Italian
	overlooks the facts that (1)  '*artichoke of girasole' fits no
	pattern of English while 'artichoke of Ter Neusen' is perfectly
	and (2) - perhaps more subtley for the layman yet obvious to any
	on this list --   'girasole' and 'Jerusalem' have quite distinct
	patterns, so the latter could not be a simple assimilation of the
	I also wonder how many Cockney market sellers were familiar enough
	both the Italian language and botanical taxonomy, to be able to
	'girasole' from the species Helianthus annuus to the related sp.
	tuberosus, since sunroots flower only rarely in the English climate,
and so
	this would not be an obvious attribute to anyone who grew them
there.   --
	But whatever the correct etymology of J.A. may be, my interest lies
not in
	the Euro-terminology, but in the name 'sunroot' and the provenance
of the
	plant in our own country as well as the USA.)

	Some people have claimed that the name 'sunroot' is based on the
	(presumably Algonquian) name (Or  Iroquoian name? Anybody happen to
have a
	copy of Champlain's diaries at hand? I wasn't really paying
attention in
	grade 5 social studies, when we did eastern Canada, and am rather
	about just where Champlain travelled.)

	Given this possible origin of the name 'sunroot', I am keen to learn
	the name for this plant and its tubers might be --in any Algonquian,
	Iroquoian, or other Indian language.

	On another aspect -- Some programs, both here in BC and elsewhere,
	supplying sunroot tubers for Indian seniors to eat, due to the high
	incidence of diabetes. The sunroot contains its carbohydratyes in
the form
	of inulin, which can be readily digested by diabetics.  I would be
happy to
	share more informatuon about this, and if you know anyone who would
like to
	grow sunroots for such purposes, I'll be happy to send them my
	which describes about 7 of the 20 varieties that I grow.

	With best wishes,

	Terry J. Klokeid, Ph.D.
	Amblewood Organic Farm
	126 Amblewood Drive, Fulford Harbour
	Salt Spring Island BC V8K 1X2
	Voice/Fax (250) 653-4099
	email  amblewood at

	"On a trouvé en bonne politique, le secret de faire mourir de faim
	qui, en cultivant la terre, font vivre les autres." (Voltaire)


More information about the Siouan mailing list