“Bring me then the plant that points to those bright Lucidites swirling up from the earth, And life itself exhaling that central breath! Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light” Eugenio Montale
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a favourite of mine and when my new herb and vegetable garden is ready to plant I'll have rows of these happy and bright flowers along each side. I love the way their heads follow the sun. Not far from where I live farmers grow fields of sunflowers for their seeds; when we drive past the farm in the morning their heads are turned east toward the sun and on our return in the afternoon they have followed the sun and are facing west.
Do you know that their petals can be added to salads and a decoction of the seeds can be taken as a tea to relieve dysentery, coughs, and inflammation of the kidneys? Eating sunflower seeds is said to remove radiation from the body; a woman researcher in the Soviet Union, Dr Dr. A. A. Rubanavskaya, used sunflower seeds to bind and eliminate radiation from the system.
First cultivated around 3,000 years ago by the American Indians, this beautiful large flower is dedicated to the Greek sun god, Helios. Because of their colour and appearance they've continually been associated with the sun. In the fifteenth century sunflowers were used to crown the heads of Aztec sun priestesses who also carried them in their hands and even wore gold jewellery adorned with sunflower motifs. They became popular in Europe after they were introduced by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century and in Russia large scale cultivation began that resulted in the seeds being offered in large bowls at railway stations and sold on street corners.
Every part of this remarkable flower can be used. The Chinese have cultivated the plant for thousands of years and have used it for making coarse ropes, as a moxa in acupuncture, and in the making of silk. Because the pith is one of the lightest substances known it is used in scientific laboratories but one of the plant's most interesting uses is its ability to absorb water from the soil. So successful is this process that the plant was used in the reclamation of marshy lands in the Netherlands.
Grow in full sun and any well drained loamy soil. Sow seeds in their shell in spring and avoid planting near potatoes otherwise their growth becomes stunted. Place seedlings or thin plants to 30 to 45 cms apart ( 12 to 18 in). Harvest leaves and flower buds as required, and stems in the autumn. Cut flower heads when they droop and hang until the seeds fall. Preserve by drying the leaves and seed; petals wont' dry well so use while fresh.
Sunflowers can be grown as a windbreak or an attractive focal point in the garden such as a central circular bed or background. Shell and eat the kernels roasted or raw; make nibbles or a snack by browning 25 g (1 oz) of seed in 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) oil, drain well then toss in salt. Sprout seeds and when they're about 6 mm (1/4) long add to salads and sandwiches. Raw buds can be eaten in salads or steamed and served like globe artichokes.
Grow sunflowers near the house to drain wet ground or help deter rising damp. Flowers can boiled and used as a yellow dye, and whole seeds fed to chickens will increase egg laying. Ashes from the burnt plant can be used as potash fertilizer. The pressed oil contains Vitamin F, which is very beneficial for the skin so use it in homemade skin care products.
To treat the above conditions eat a handful of seeds or boil for 20 minutes and take as a tea, alternatively take 15 drops of sunflower seed oil three times a day.
Use for protection and fertility. Grow flowers in the garden to bring blessings of the Sun. For help with conception women often eat the seeds during the waxing moon.
Parts Used: Seed
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.