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Sunflower

Helianthus annuus

Herbs gallery - Sunflower



Common names

  • Sunflower

Sunflower (botanical name, Helianthus annuus) is a tall, remarkable, annually growing plant which grows up to a height of 3 feet to 10 feet (1 m to 3 m). The sunflower plant has a fleshy, coarse and hairy stem, while the leaves are broad and roughly-textured. In addition, the leaves of this plant have unevenly indented borders with noticeable veins. The plant bears familiar vividly yellow hued flowers that have brownish centers akin to a honeycomb, which are made up of tubular flowers. When these flowers mature, they yield recognizable seeds that have a pale grayish color.

Helianthus, the botanical name of sunflower, is derived from the Latin terms ‘anthos' meaning flower and ‘helios' denoting the Sun. In fact, the species' botanical name refers to the round yellowish heads that bear a resemblance to the sun's sphere encircled by rays. The flower heads are also believed to rotate with the intention that they turn towards the sun all the time. Therefore, it is little surprising that sunflower is known as ‘girasol' and ‘tournesol' in Spanish and French respectively. This flower is said to have its origin in Peru, where the ancient Incas tribe worshipped the sun and considered the sunflower to be the insignia of their Sun god. In fact, the Inca priestesses wore headdresses made of sunflower and these flowers were decorated in gold adorning the sun temple of the Incas.

The seeds of the sunflower yield light yellow oil which contains high concentration of unsaturated fats. The oil produced from sunflower seeds has a mild flavour compared to olive oil and it is believed to be healthy for the arteries in comparison to butter owing to the oil's low content of saturated fat. In recent times, margarine prepared from sunflower oil has become a well accepted substitute to butter. People in Spain roast the seeds of sunflower in their shells and enjoy them as a snack. Sunflower seeds have rich content of vitamins B1, B3 and B6 and can also be prepared into a wholesome spread, which is available from your neighbourhood health food stores. It is important to note that all parts of the sunflower plant are valuable. While the leaves of the plant form excellent fodder for cattle, in earlier times, the fibrous stems of the plant were used in manufacturing paper. Even the tender flower buds may be boiled in water and consumed like artichokes.

Parts used

Seeds, leaves, flower buds.

Uses

Different parts of the sunflower plant possess a number of therapeutic properties and, hence, they are very useful medicinally. For instance, the sunflower seeds possess diuretic and expectorant properties and, not long back, were deemed to be very useful for treating respiratory problems like coughs, colds and bronchitis. Then again, the leaves and flowers of this plant were regarded as effective remedies for protection from malaria. In effect, the leaves and flowers have a feeble insecticidal attributes. In traditional Russian medicine, a poultice prepared with fresh sunflower leaves was used to treat fevers.

An herbal tea prepared with sunflower flowers possesses astringent, diuretic and expectorant properties and, hence, it is given to people enduring high fevers. Crushed sunflower leaves are used to made poultices and applied externally on swellings, sores, snakebites and spider bites. The leaves of the sunflower plant are collected when the plant is in bloom and are dehydrated and stored for later use. An herbal tea prepared with the flowers is employed to treat malaria and lung diseases. In addition, the seeds and flowering heads of the plant are febrifuge (any medicine that reduces fever), stomachic (a medicine that is good for the digestive tract) and nourishing. The sunflower seeds are also deemed to be an effective diuretic and expectorant and have been successfully used in treating pulmonary ailments. A decoction prepared with the sunflower roots can be used as a warm wash to get relief from rheumatic aches and pains.

The oil extracted from the sunflower seeds is among the several emollients (soothers) derived from plants that imitate the skin's lipid or fat content. The sunflower oil is gently textured and it facilitates in stabilizing as well as sustaining the arrangement of skin's inner multifaceted inter-cellular matrix and helps in avoiding moisture loss and damage to the cells. In addition, topical application of sunflower oil on the skin makes it supple and soft, while giving the skin a healthy and glowing appearance.

The seeds of the sunflower plant may be consumed raw or after cooking them. They have an appetizing flavour akin to nuts, but are extremely tricky to extract owing to their petite size. When sunflower is cultivated commercially, specific machines perform the job of extracting the seeds. The sunflower seeds, which have a rich fat content, may be pulverized into a powder, used to make seed yoghurt and even made into sunflower butter. The seed powder makes a delicious and nourishing food (bread) when mixed with cereal flours.

In Russia, scientists have developed a number of sunflower cultivars that yield up to 50 per cent oil, which encloses around 44 per cent to 72 per cent linoleic acid. It may be noted that the germinated sunflower seed is considered to be the best for preparing seed yoghurt. To prepare the seed yoghurt, the germinated seeds are mixed with water and allowed to ferment. In addition, the sprouted sunflower seed can also be consumed raw. Scientists have prepared a nutritional analysis of the sprouted sunflower seed and it is said to be very nourishing. One can also steam the young sunflower buds and eat them like round artichokes. The sunflower seed also yields high grade edible semi-drying oil, which has low cholesterol content. This particular oil is believed to have the same excellence as the olive oil. The semi-drying oil extracted from sunflower seeds is used in cooking, salads and even margarines. When the seed is roasted, it forms a substitute for coffee and drinking chocolate. According to one report, the roasted hulls of the sunflower seeds are also used. Some people even boil the leaf petioles of sunflower and blend them with other edibles.

As mentioned earlier, semi-drying edible oil is extracted from sunflower seed. Apart from consumption, this particular form of sunflower oil is frequently blended with any drying oil, for instance, linseed (botanical name, Linum usitatissimum) to manufacture candles, soap, varnishes, paints and several other products. In addition, this oil is also used for lighting. This semi-drying edible sunflower oil is also known to be a matchless lubricant. The seed receptacles are also used to manufacture a type of blotting paper. The inner stalk of the sunflower plant is used to manufacture superior grade writing paper. The pith of the sunflower stem is among the lightest substances known and has a specific gravity of 0.028. Owing to its ultra lightness, the pith of the sunflower stem is used in various ways - it is presently being used to manufacture life-saving applications as well as slides for microscope. At the same time, the dried stem of the sunflower plant forms an excellent fuel - the ash collected contains high amounts of potassium. In fact, the dehydrated stems as well as the empty seed receptacles form excellent fuels.

The fiber obtained from the stem of the sunflower is used to manufacture superior quality paper as well as a fine grade cloth. The flowers yield a yellow dye, while the seeds of specific varieties of the crop cultivated by the Hopi Indians of S. W. North America yield a purple-black dye. In addition, when sown in spring, sunflower plants may also be used as a green manure, as they yield an excellent mass of material. However, while growing sunflower, you ought to know that the secretions from the roots of this plant have the potential to slow down the growth of other plants grown in the vicinity.

Habitat and cultivation

The sunflower is indigenous to Central America and it is believed to have originated in Peru. Later, this plant was introduced to various other regions across the globe, including North America, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the erstwhile USSR. While it is cultivated as a decorative garden plant across the globe, sunflower is commercially cultivated extensively in countries like the United States, Italy, Argentina, Rumania and Hungary.

The sunflower is propagated by its seeds, which are sowed during the middle of spring in situ (in the permanent place of the plants). The sunflower may also be sown earlier by sowing two to three seeds in each pot in a green house during the earlier part of spring. When growing sunflower, always use moderately rich compost. Once the seeds germinate, provide the seedling with a liquid feed from time to time to ensure that they do not suffer from nutrient deficiency. When the young plants have grown sufficiently large to be handled, plant them outdoors in the latter part of spring or in early summer. The seeds of the sunflower plant are always harvested in weather conditions where there is 12 per cent moisture and stored for later use. When harvested in such conditions, the seeds will retain their strength for many years.

It is important to accustom the young plants to outdoors conditions prior to transplanting them outdoors in deep, refined soil. The plants should be positioned at least 60 cm (2 feet) apart and initially supported with tall sticks. A sunny site that is well sheltered from strong winds is the ideal place to plant the young sunflower plants.

Since the plants are tall and their flowers usually appear at great heights, there is little or no scope of the crop being affected by soil-borne fungus or any bug problem. In effect, this means that even people cultivating the plant in non-organic methods would be less inclined to use poisonous pesticides/ herbicides while cultivating sunflower.

Constituents

The sunflower seeds produce a gently consistent textured, oleic acid rich soothing oil and contains great quantities of vitamins A, D and E, unsaturated fatty acids and lecithin that make it ideal for eye care as well as delicate skin care. In addition, the seeds of sunflower also enclose helianol. Helianol is known to have a powerful anti-inflammatory outcome on the skin.

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