(Stachys affinis and S. sieboldii— Family Labiatae)
Chinese artichoke, Japanese artichoke, crosne, spirals, choro-gi (Japanese)
Chinese artichokes are not usually grown for their aromatic foliage, but for the small ridged tubers at the tips of the creeping underground stems. As the names imply, this “artichoke” is a native of China and Japan.
Crosne is the US market name for this vegetable, which is imported from France under the same name. Of all the “artichokes”, the Chinese artichoke was the last to arrive in Europe, reaching France in 1882 with a physician who brought it from Peking.
The plant has rough, oval leaves, with white to pale pink flowers that appear in small spikes. It does need a large area for decent quantities to be harvested and, thus, is considered in most places as a novelty crop.
The tubers are harvested when the plants have died back after being in the ground for about five to seven months. Even the smallest tuber will have to be harvested, otherwise, the plant will rapidly become a menacing weed.
The tubers are about two inches long and have a delicate nutty flavour. Boiling is the simplest; but they can also be fried, stir-fried, roasted, added to soup, or eaten raw in salads.
In China and Japan, the rootstalks of the shrub are cultivated on a relatively large scale, but France is the only Western country that grows them on any sizeable scale. Their mild flavour is reminiscent of scorzonera and artichokes.
Since the rhizomes thicken primarily between, rather than on, the actual nodes, rootstocks are produced whose center sections are more swollen than their base and tip. The tucking in of the tubers results in a caterpillar-type appearance.