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  Sunflowers for Foods, Seeds, Oils, Health and Beauty  

NEW! Pharmacopeia of Flowers: Foods, Drinks, Health & Beauty

Enjoy Eating Sunflowers?

Sunflower |ˈsənˌflou(-ə)r| noun
a tall North American plant of the daisy family, with very large golden-rayed flowers. Sunflowers are cultivated for their edible seeds, which are an important source of oil for cooking and margarine.

• Helianthus annus, family Compositae. Greek translation of the sunflower’s genus and species is "annual sun".

The Sunflower plant has a rough, hairy stem, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The heads consist of many individual flowers which mature into seeds, often in the hundreds, on a receptacle base.

The yellow "petals" of the sunflower are actually protective leaves that cover the center of the head while it is growing. The brown center of the sunflower is composed of a mass of hundreds of flowers, all growing individually, and from where each sunflower seed will originate.

The flower of a sunflower is actually several flowers, which is why it is considered an inflorescence. An inflorescence is a group of several flowers. Therefore, the many individual packets at the center of the head are the fruits of the plant, not the seeds. Each flower of the sunflower consists of the typical structures of a flower: receptacle, peduncle, sepal, petals, stamen, and a pistil. Consequently, every flower is able to develop fruit, or the ripened ovary, with the ovule (seed) inside.

Golden Angle & Sacred Geometry of Sunflowers

Golden Angle + Sacred Geometry of SunflowersA model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower was proposed by H. Vogel in 1979. This is expressed in polar coordinates. The flower petals within the sunflower's cluster are always in a spiral pattern. Generally, each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.

Sunflowers commonly grow to heights between 1.5 and 3.5 meters (5–12 ft.). The tallest sunflower confirmed by Guinness World Records is 8.0 meters (2009 Germany). In 16th century Europe the record was already 7.3 meters (24 ft., Spain). Most cultivars are variants of H. annuus, but four other species (all perennials) are also domesticated.

Sunflowers need full sun to grow best. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with heavy mulch. In commercial planting, seeds are planted 45 cm (1.5 ft.) apart and 2.5 cm (1 in) deep.

Are Sunflowers Genetically Modified (GMO)?

Sunflower is not a genetically modified plant (non-GMO). Europe is a large production region for sunflower and the EU will not accept GMO planting seed. The regulatory hurdles in the U.S. are insurmountable at the present time due to possible gene flow to wild sunflower. Without Europe and the U.S. there is not enough market size for the private sector to make the necessary investment in sunflower GMO.

The original sunflower oil (linoleic sunflower oil) is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (about 68% linoleic acid) and low in saturated fats, such as palmitic acid and stearic acid. However, various hybrids have been developed to alter the fatty acid profile of the crop for various purposes.

Oilseed Sunflower Seeds Hulled Sunflower Seeds Confectionery Sunflower Seeds

Two types of sunflowers are grown in the United States, oilseed and confectionery.

  1. Oilseed sunflower seeds are small and black with a high oil content. They are processed into oil and meal.
  2. Confectionery sunflower seeds are large black and white seeds which are roasted and for snacks and breads.

Napa Valley Naturals Sunflower OilThere are now 3 types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and NuSun. Each variety has its own unique levels of monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated fats. The information in this article refers mainly to the linoleic variety.

NuSun™ Monounsaturated Sunflower Oil

NuSun™ is a mid-range oleic (monounsaturated) sunflower oil. It needs no hydrogenation and has a 9 percent saturated fat level. NuSun™ is extremely functional for frying applications and has a good balance of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that enhances the taste of products.


Sunflower Quotes

"Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock."

"Every friend is to the other a sun, and a sunflower also. He attracts and follows."

"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It's what sunflowers do."

"Never look directly at the sun. Instead, look at the sunflower."


Sunflower Foods

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual plant of the aster or sunflower family Asteraceae.

Sonnenblumenkernbrot sunflower whole seed breadSunflower Seeds

Nearly everyone knows you can eat sunflower seeds. There are actually two general kinds of seeds. There are black seeds with a white stripe; the ones you usually buy in the store. Then there are Sunflower seeds that are smaller and totally black. Those are used for oil (and those that don’t make the oil grade end up in bird seed). The seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack or, raw, ground into a meal to thicken soups and stews. Roasted hulls can be used to make a brew similar to coffee. But there’s more to eat on a sunflower than just the seeds, no matter which kind.

Sunflower "whole seed" (fruit) are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and/or seasonings added. Sunflowers can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter. In Germany, it is mixed with rye flour to make Sonnenblumenkernbrot (literally: sunflower whole seed bread), which is quite popular in German-speaking Europe. It is also sold as food for birds and can be used directly in cooking and salads.

Sunflower Oil Expellor
Sunflower Seed Oil

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. A range of sunflower varieties exist with differing fatty acid compositions; some 'high oleic' types contain a higher level of monounsaturated fats in their oil than even olive oil. The oil is used for food, cooking, medicine and cosmetics. You can even make your own oil with an expellor.

Sunflower Buds

The sunflower sprouts can be juiced for green drinks or eaten whole. The unopened buds are edible cooked. They taste like artichokes, to whom they are closely related. And once the huge blossom is open the petals can be eaten, though they are bittersweet. They’re often mixed with pasta.

Sunflower Roots

While the seeds are edible, the roots of some sunflowers including the Jerusalem Artichoke are also edible. H. tuberosus, the Jerusalem Artichoke produces edible tubers.

The Puget Balsam Root aka Deltoid Balsam Root is strictly a west coast of North America plant. In the sunflower family Balsamorhiza deltoidea was a food and medicinal plant for Native Americans. Young tender roots are eaten cooked, like carrots, or candied. The natives also roasted and ground the root using it like coffee. The young leaves were boiled as a potherb and the plant’s oily seeds eaten like sunflower seeds. The flower stalk can be cooked and eaten like a vegetable.

Birds Eating Sunflower Seeds
The root of a sunflower reflects its characteristic of being a dicot. Out of the seed, the first root, radicle, pushes through and develops into a taproot. It continues to expand through primary and secondary tissues. Primary roots develop from primary tissues of the apical meristems that increase the length of the plant. While secondary roots, from secondary tissues of the lateral meristems give rise to the girth of the plant. Both structures are vital for the growth and strength of the stem.

Sunflower Fodder

Leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed. The cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed.


Sunflowers Health Benefits

One warning, some people have contact dermatitis with the sunflower. Also be careful where you collect your wild sunflower. They will take up toxins in the soil and were in fact used after the Chernobyl accident to clean the ground.

Sunflower Seed is a FlowerSunflowers Nutritional Value

In addition to providing linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, some amino acids (especially tryptophan), vitamin E, several B vitamins (especially thiamine, pantothenic acid, and folic acid). Additionally, they are rich in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. Furthermore, sunflower seeds boast a low glycemic index as well as high levels of protein and minerals including magnesium and copper.

Phytoremediation Cleaning Contaminated Soil

Sunflowers can be used in phytoremediation to extract toxic ingredients from soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium, and used in rhizofiltration to neutralize radionuclides and other toxic ingredients and harmful bacteria from water. They were used to remove caesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Chernobyl disaster, and a similar campaign was mounted in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Among the Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by medicine man before sucking snakebite and applying a poultice to the wound. This compound poultice of the root applied with much ceremony to rattlesnake bites. Blossoms used also used ceremonially for anthropic worship.


Industrial Sunflower Uses

Sunflowers have many uses. Dye can be extracted from hulls and petals and face paint can be made from dried petals mixed with pollen. Dried stalks can also be used to build shelters.

Automatic Sunflower Oil ExpellerSome recently developed cultivars have drooping heads. These cultivars are less attractive to gardeners growing the flowers as ornamental plants, but appeal to farmers, because they reduce bird damage and losses from some plant diseases. Sunflowers also produce latex, and are the subject of experiments to improve their suitability as an alternative crop for producing nonallergenic rubber.

Sunflower stems contain a fibre which may be used in paper production. The stem of a sunflower grows from the plumule found inside the seed. The plumule is an embryo shoot with a hypocotyl stem structure below the point where the plumule was attached and an epicotyl stem structure above this attachment point. Since a sunflower is a dicot, the cross-section of a stem organizes the vascular bundles in an away to separate the cortex and create a pith. This is opposite of its root structure which does not include a pith. The vascular bundles consisting of xylem and phloem transport water, mainly acquired from the roots, and food, mainly developed in the leaves, throughout the plant.

The hulls, or shells, are mostly composed of cellulose. Sunflower shells decompose slowl, and are sometimes burned as biomass fuel. In the future, sunflower oil could become a renewable bio-source for hydrogen. A team for the University of Leeds has developed a workable method for the extraction of hydrogen from sunflower oil, through a chain of chemical reactions with nickel-based and carbon-based catalysts. However, while the plant's photosynthesis essentially captures the hydrogen, the energy necessary to liberate hydrogen gas from the hydrocarbons from sunflower oil is considerably greater than the energy of the liberated gas. Therefore, although sunflower oil could certainly be used for this purpose, it is not, by any means, a 'free' or even 'eco-friendly' source of energy.

Sunflower Massage Oils
Sunflower Massage Oils

Sunflower Oil is light and absorbs quickly into the skin making it ideal for massage. It is an affordable carrier oil that blends nicely with other carrier oils as well as essential oils. When compared to other carrier oils, Sunflower Oil has one of the highest contents of Vitamin E, a known antioxidant. Antioxidants keep the skin protected against harmful free radicals that cause premature aging and other health problems.

Sunflower Oil also has a wealth of essential unsaturated fatty acids, lecithin, as well as vital minerals and vitamins. Sunflower Oil works well with all skin types, but is especially beneficial for acne-prone, inflamed skin. It is a wonderful moisturizer and works to keep dry, prematurely aged, and damaged skin properly hydrated.

  • Affordable, all-purpose carrier oil that’s great to have on hand
  • Light viscosity and quickly absorbs into skin making it ideal for massage
  • Highest content of vitamin E, a known antioxidant that protects against premature aging and other health problems, when compared to all other carrier oils
  • Superb emollient moisturizing dry, cracked skin
  • Soothes skin inflammations like eczema and acne
  • So gentle that is used as a protectant for a baby’s delicate skin
  • Protects the skin against harmful UVA rays that cause sunburn
  • Beautifies the skin by reducing the appearance of scars, wrinkles and stretch marks


Sunflowers in International Cultures

Russia is the largest producer of commercial sunflowers with Argentina second and the United States third.

In-shell sunflower seeds are particularly popular in Mediterranean and Asian countries, including Egypt, Syria, Israel, Turkey, and Malaysia. In Turkey, Syria and Israel they can be bought freshly roasted in shops and markets and are a common stadium food, while in Malaysia they can be bought freshly packed in various roasted flavors. They are also popular in countries worldwide including Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain, China, Morocco, Iran, Canada and the United States.

The Beach Boys - Sunflower (Album)
Sunflowers were used by the Native Americans as a food source and the oil was extracted for tanning hides, hygienic, and medicinal purposes. American Indians had multiple uses for sunflowers in the past, such as in bread, medical ointments, dyes and body paints. Traditionally, several Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a "fourth sister" to the better known three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash. Annual species are often planted for their allelopathic properties.

During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular in Russia, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was allowed during Lent, according to some fasting traditions.

Van Gogh began painting sunflowers after he left Holland for France in pursuit of creating an artistic community. The firsts were created to decorate his friend Paul Gauguin's bedroom. The majority of Van Gogh's sunflowers in vases were created in Arles, France during 1888-1889. Van Gogh did create some sunflower paintings prior to this time though in Paris, France around the time of 1887. This series consists of sunflower clippings verses sunflowers in vases.

Sunflowers have also been part of many pre-Columbian sun religions. That the young plants will follow the sun across the sky and then return to facing east during the night was not lost on ancient cultures.

The sunflower is also the symbol of the Vegan Society.


Sunflower Ancestors

Sunflowers have been under cultivation more than 4,000 years, starting perhaps in central Mexico and moving northward and now throughout North America. Sunflowers originated in the Americas in 1000 BC, where for centuries they were cultivated as a valuable food source. Evidence suggest that the plant was cultivated by indian in present day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC.

Sunflower Wedding
Although it was commonly accepted that the sunflower was first domesticated in what is now the Southeastern US, roughly 5000 years ago, there is evidence that it was first domesticated in Mexico around 3578 BC. These crops were found in Tabasco, Mexico at the San Andre's dig site. The earliest known examples in the United States of a fully domesticated sunflower have been found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 BC.

Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. In 1510 early Spanish explorers encountered the sunflower in the Americas and carried its seeds back to Europe. Of the four plants known to have been domesticated in what is now the eastern continental United States to have become an important agricultural commodity, sunflower is currently the most economically important.

Sunflowers become very popular as a cultivated plant in the 18th century. The plant was initially used as on ornamental but by 1769 literature mentions sunflower cultivated by oil production.

Sunflowers Field
Crop of Sunflowers
Helianthus Whorl
Sunflower Zoom
Sunflower Head
Sunflower Seeds on the Flower
Model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower proposed by H. Vogel in 1979
Sunflower Sprouts
Helianthus annuus prado red
Vincent Van Gogh - Sunflowers 1888



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