October 1st, 2004Sunflower - Nature’s Perfect Plant
(NOTE: This article is from the old School of Natural Healing newsletter)
by Lindsay Wolsey, MH
This newsletter is the result of a mini-feud with my neighbor. It started when I went to Florida for a week. When I came home, Morning Glory had taken over my yard. So I was out in my yard, vainly trying to get the Morning Glory under control. And I was making fairly good progress. My neighbor (not the one with heartburn) comes over, and tells me that I need to weed an area between our yards, because it looks trashy. I looked over at the area, and saw a beautiful specimen of Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower). So I carefully weeded the area, making sure that the Sunflower was still there. The next day, my neighbor told my husband to cut the sunflower down. He told her that she needed to think before she spoke. She then said that she meant that the sunflower made her yard look trashy. As I have walked around our neighborhood, I have seen many different varieties of Sunflower in people’s yards, and along the side of the road. I don’t think that these remarkable plants look trashy—I think they are beautiful.The Back Story
Sunflower gets its Latin name from the Greek—Helios, meaning “sun” and Anthos, meaning “a flower”. These plants are native to North America, Peru and Mexico. Both the Inca’s and the Aztecs worshipped Sunflowers. In the 1500’s, Spanish conquerors sent sunflower specimens to Europe. These plants were used as ornamentals, and some medicinal uses were discovered.
In the 1700’s, an English patent was granted for a process for sunflower oil. In the 1800’s, Sunflowers as food became popular. The Russian Orthodox Church forbade the use of oils during Lent, but conveniently didn’t include sunflower oil. In the 1900’s, Russian Farmers grew over 2 million acres of sunflowers (imagine how trashy that must have looked).
Sunflower production was brought to the United States
During World War II, the use of Sunflower oil increased. There was a shortage of the Russian Mammoth seed, so people began using the American Giant seed instead. The giant sunflowers grow one big flower, which usually gets too heavy to turn and follow the sun. For you DaVinci Code fans, there is an interesting side note about these types of sunflowers—their seeds conform to the Fibonacci sequence.
In 1997, the United States exported $260.4 million in sunflower seeds and oil products.
Sunflowers are a special plant, in that every part of the plant can be used. The seeds, flowers, leafs, stem and root all have uses.
The seeds are eaten by people, birds and livestock. In fact, when sunflower seeds are used in a birdseed mix, the birds will pick out all the sunflower seeds and eat them, and turn up their beaks at the rest of the seed mix. So you need to be cautious about using sunflower seeds with birds! The seeds are also used medicinally, to calm the nerves, and for their antioxidant properties. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds has 120% of the RDA for Vitamin E. Vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, help decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in women going through menopause, and help reduce the development of diabetic complications. Sunflower seeds are also high in magnesium, which helps reduce the severity of asthma, lower high blood pressure, and prevent migraine headaches, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue.
Sunflower seeds are also a good source of selenium, which inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells. They are also high in B-1, B-5, phosphorous, tryptophan, copper, B-6, manganese, folate, fiber, iron and zinc. Sunflower seeds have no cholesterol. Sprouted sunflower seeds are an excellent source of amino acids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Sunflower seeds may just be nature’s perfect food.
The sunflower seed oil is used in fuel, cooking, soap, lubricant, and candles.
Sunflower stems have been used to make paper, clothing, as fuel for fire, and to make microscope slide mounts. The stems were also once used to fill life preservers.
The leaves of the sunflower plant have been used a livestock feed. They are also used medicinally. Sunflower leaf tea has been used to treat high fevers, and for lung ailments. Just a few tablespoons of sunflower leaf tea will stop diarrhea—so it is best to use it sparingly. The leaves have both diuretic and expectorant properties.
The flowers on the sunflower have been used to make yellow dyes. The buds can also be cooked like artichokes. The early American settlers would plant sunflowers around their homes, believing that the flowers would ward off malaria.
A poultice of the root can be used for snakebites and spider bites. The roots have also been useful in treating rheumatism. The American Indians would crush the roots to make dressings for wounds.
Arthritis, ague, cardio-vascular problems, chest congestion, chest pain, colds, constipation, coughs, diarrhea, diuretic, eczema, eye sight, fevers, feverish tuberculosis, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, kidney inflammation, low sperm count, malaria, nail biting, pain relief, stop smoking, snake bites, stomach pain, treat worms, ulcers, whooping cough.
The sunflower that started this is in full bloom. I have been pruning it, and it is growing tall, like the stately plant it is. An interesting thing about sunflowers—the more you prune them, the more flowers they grow. Perhaps my neighbor will change her mind about the sunflower, and perhaps she won’t. Regardless, they will always be welcome in my yard. And the seeds will always be present on my desk.