Sunroot use among First Nations
BGalloway at sifc.edu
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.
From: Terry J. Klokeid [SMTP:klokeid at victoria.tc.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, February 01, 2000 2:00 AM
To: siouan at lists.Colorado.EDU
Subject: Sunroot use among First Nations
I have a small seed selling operation and one of the plants I carry
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
A member of the sunflower family, this plant has a tall stalk,
that of the sunflower, Helianthus annuus. Some varieties of sunroot,
suitable climate, produce small flowers similar to the sunflower,
viable seeds have ever been documented. Instead, the sunroot
through its underground tubers There are many dozens of varieties
plant, with tubers ranging in size from small carrot to small
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
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
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
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
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,
this would not be an obvious attribute to anyone who grew them
But whatever the correct etymology of J.A. may be, my interest lies
the Euro-terminology, but in the name 'sunroot' and the provenance
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
copy of Champlain's diaries at hand? I wasn't really paying
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
of inulin, which can be readily digested by diabetics. I would be
share more informatuon about this, and if you know anyone who would
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 mail.com
"On a trouvé en bonne politique, le secret de faire mourir de faim
qui, en cultivant la terre, font vivre les autres." (Voltaire)
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