Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are native American plants of the Compositae family. Their bloom is made up of many small petal-less flowers bunched together and ringed with large bright petals.
The stems are thick and leafy and usually topped with a single inflorescence. These flowers can reach nine feet tall with heads up to a foot across.
Sunflower buds will follow the sun across the sky. This is called Heliotropism. Once they bloom they lose this ability.
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History and Folklore
Evidence suggests that sunflowers were first domesticated in Mexico around 2600 BC. Native Americans also domesticated sunflowers in Mississippi and Tennessee. Their nutritious seeds and oil have been a staple for centuries.
It is said that sunflower is the fourth sister to the traditional native American corn, beans, and squash combination. The Aztecs and Incas used the flower as a symbol for their solar deity.
Sunflowers grow best in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. They like a bit of mulch. They should be planted directly in the ground after the last frost and need protection from squirrels and birds.
A floating row cover is a good idea for the first few weeks until the plants are established. They will continue to grow all summer and bloom in late summer.
Harvesting & Storage
In late September, the petals will fall off of the sunflower head and the head will start to curl. When you peak into the head you will find that the seeds are visible and turning black.
When this happens, cut the stem far enough from the head that you have a good handle. Then hang the head upside down in a well-ventilated area out of the sun until it is thoroughly dried out then shake and rub the seeds out into a bag.
Alternatively, put a mesh bag over the sunflower as it starts to ripen to protect it from the birds and let it ripen on the stem.
The seeds will keep longer in their shells. They will store up to a year in the freezer but will start to go bad after about 2 months. The oils begin to go rancid.
Exposure to sunlight and heat will speed up the process so store them in a cool, dark spot to get the most out of them. You can roast them like pumpkin seeds in the oven, sprinkled with a little salt, or not.
Sunflower is associated with the sun and all solar deities.
Its essence helps balance the first chakra and also helps with confidence in leadership roles.
Growing sunflowers in the garden brings positive energy to the home. (Plant near the front door so everyone sees it before they come in!)
Sunflower oil can be used to make homemade soap (though coconut oil is best)
Sunflowers can be used to extract toxins from the soil including lead, arsenic, and uranium. Simply plant them in the tainted area and don’t eat their seeds!
Sunflower oil can be used as a carrier oil for healing oils used in massages and ointments.
Sunflower seeds make a great snack out of hand and are also delicious tossed on salads and baked into breads.
Sun butter can be used as a dip for carrots, celery, apples and bananas, as a spread and in anything you’d use peanut butter for.
Sunflower oil can be used in frying or as salad oil.
Use sun butter in place of peanut butter and you will soon find you prefer it. It’s also safe to eat in the presence of nut-allergic kids!