Friday, June 24, 2011

Sunshine on My Shoulders Makes Me Happy

Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers.

From 1 pack of seeds they grow all over the farm
They come in many colors
The common sunflower is an American native plant. The American Indian was the first to use the sunflower, but there is no written record. Sunflower seeds have been found at several archaeological sites in the United States and early explorers notebooks and journals have information about Indians gathering seeds for food. At prehistoric sites in Arizona, several sunflower disks have been found, as well as designs of the flowers incorporated in their pottery.

After the discovery of America in 1492, the sunflower went to Europe, then onto Russia, and was then reintroduced into America from Russia. Practically all the flowers now cultivated in America were of Russian origin.

This species of sunflower is extremely variable. There are branched forms with small flower heads, which are common in the wild. I love to see them growing in the ditches and abandoned farms in North Carolina. Unbranched forms with massive flower heads, which are cultivated for their oily seeds; and still others with red or double flowers which are grown for their ornamental value.

The greatest medicinal use of the sunflower that has been used throughout the world is for pulmonary problems. It was the main medicinal use of many Native Americans. A decoction was made from the sunflower head, which the Dakota and Pawnee Indians would drink for respiratory ailments, like bronchitis.

Sunflower oil is used in salad dressings, for cooking and in the manufacturing of margarine and shortening. It is used in industry for making paints and cosmetics. The roasted seeds make a coffee type drink. In countries where they grow sunflowers the seed cake that is left after the oil is extracted is given to livestock as food. In the Soviet Union the hulls are used for manufacturing ethyl alcohol, in lining for plywood and growing yeast. The dried stems have also been used for fuel.

The Chinese have used the fiber from stems for fabrics and paper. The interior of the stalk is one of the lightest substances known. The plant’s ability to absorb water from soil has been used to reclaim marsh land in the Netherlands.

The sunflower is a plant to be valued and appreciated for more than just food for birds or an ornamental plant in a summer garden.

Add a few sunflowers to the garden next time you plant and they will put a smile on your face.

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