Want to grow something that isn't the same thing you always grow? If you live in a location with a relatively mild winter, here is an idea. The plant species is Polymnia sonchifolia, common names yacon or Bolivian sunroot. It is a plant featured in the book Lost Crops of the Incas--and in my book Golden Gate Gardening (see cover in column at right). It is relatively uncommon outside of the Andes, but not lost, by any means. I've been growing this plant since the late 80s. The photo at left shows a crown with the rhizomes at the center top, and the tuberous roots hanging off of them. You plant the rhizomes, then in winter or early spring, dig them up, cut off and eat the tuberous roots that have formed under them, then replant the rhizomes.
In summer the plants grow. They have really big, furry leaves, arranged in pairs. The leaf stems (petioles) are winged--that is the leaf blade continues right down the sides of the leaf stems. And the plants are very tall. What I have read about them says they can reach 6 feet, but mine are usually rather taller than that, maybe 8 feet, maybe more.
These aren't quite full grown. In about late October or in November, they are topped with rather small orange daisies. Seems like a lot of plant for those tiny flowers, but of course the real reproduction is going on underground, where the rhizomes are multiplying.
So what does it taste like? The edible tuberous roots are crisp, juicy, and mildly to very sweet. Sort of like jicama, but juicier. I like to eat them raw myself, though there are those who advocate cooking them. Might try it.
To eat them raw, I just take a potato peeler to them, then wash and slice them. They are good just as is (shown on the plate with some also delicious homegrown sugar snap peas) or in a salad in place of jicama. One I like has red onion rings marinated in orange juice vinaigrette, sliced orange, Bolivian sunroot, avocado, dressed with the vinaigrette, served on a bed of lettuce leaves.