Sunflower Lore

COMMON NAME: sunflower
GENUS: Helianthus
SPECIES: H. annuus-grown for seed and flower
FAMILY: Compositae
BLOOMS: summer
TYPE: annual
DESCRIPTION: Characterized by its height and size of the flower, the sunflower has earned a welcome place in the summer garden. Many varieties on the market now offer diversity in color {even a white sunflower!}, size of the flower, and plant height. Dwarf plants grow only 15 inches tall.
CULTIVATION: Extremely heat and drought tolerant, most sunflowers can easily exist under conditions unsuitable for growing many other garden flowers. Although the shorter strains can be grown in poor soils, the taller varieties need moderately rich soil and regular watering. They will also need staking. Sow seeds outdoors where you want them to grow. Depending on the size plant you are growing, thin the seedlings to 24 to 48 inches apart.

These towering plants, beacons of light and warmth, have been loved and worshiped for many centuries. The Incan Indians of Peru considered this flower a symbol of the sun and worshiped it accordingly. Priestesses of the temple wore sunflower medallions made of gold.
American pioneer families found many uses for sunflowers. New growth was eaten like asparagus, and the seeds were eaten as a tasty snack, used for baking, and fed to birds during winter months. The leaves and stalks were used as fodder, and fibers from the stalks were used to make cloth. Oil from the seeds was used in cooking and for making soap, and the blossoms made a good yellow dye. Not only were the plants grown in the garden, but they were also planted close to the house because of the superstition that sunflowers were protection against malaria.
Sunflowers are native to North America and South America, and many Indian tribes used the plant for cooking, mixing paint, and dressing their hair.
The genus name, Helianthus, is from two Greek words, helios, meaning “sun” and anthos, meaning “flower.”
According to the Victorian language of flowers, the sunflower is a symbol of haughtiness.

Sunflower {Helianthus annuus}

Also, Known As:

  • 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 is 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 surprise 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 worshiped 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 a light yellow oil which contains a high concentration of unsaturated fats. The oil produced from sunflower seeds has a mild flavor 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 a rich content of vitamins B 1, B 3 and B 6 and can also be prepared into a wholesome spread, which is available from your neighborhood 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.

sunflowers yard

Plant Part Used

Seeds, leaves, flower buds.

Therapeutic Properties

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 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 flavor 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 rich fat content, may be pulverized into a powder, used to make seed yogurt 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 percent oil, which encloses around 44 percent to 72 percent linoleic acid. It may be noted that the germinated sunflower seed is considered to be the best for preparing seed yogurt. To prepare the seed yogurt, 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 margarine’s. 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, semi-drying edible oil is extracted from the 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 the 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 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.


1859 Magazine, Trip Planner Joseph Oregon, June 2016, Silver Lake Bistro Pizza Kitchen

Growing Sunflower

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, the 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 greenhouse 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 percent 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 outdoor 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.

Components of Sunflower

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 skincare. In addition, the seeds of sunflower also enclose helianol. Helianol is known to have a powerful anti-inflammatory outcome on the skin.

The ancient Greek myth of Apollo and Clytie is one explanation of why sunflowers turn towards the sun. In this story Clytie, a nymph, adored Apollo. At first, he loved her back, but soon he fell in love with Leucothoe. Because of her jealousy, Clytie told Leucothoe’s father of the relationship and he punished her by burying her alive.

In anger, Apollo turned her into a flower, but even in flower form she still loved him and would spend her days watching him as he moved the sun across the sky in his chariot, just like sunflowers move to face the sun.

Sunflower Meanings

  • Because of the myth of Clytie and Apollo, the sunflower most commonly means adoration and loyalty. However, sunflower meanings can vary across cultures.
  • In China, people associate sunflowers with long life, good fortune, and vitality.
  • To Native American groups, sunflowers represented harvest, bounty, and provision because they provided seeds, pigment, and more.

Sunflower Symbolism & Colors

The sunflower’s yellow color symbolizes vitality, intelligence, and happiness. The color yellow also traditionally symbolizes friendship.

Sunflowers also symbolize worship and faithfulness in various religions because of their resemblance to the sun, which is associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth.

The Incas used sunflowers to symbolize the Sun God and brought them to temples for worship. The priestesses also wore sunflowers on their garments and as crowns.

Sunflower Cultural Significance

Sunflowers have also been used by countless artists. The most well-known portrayal of sunflowers is Van Gogh’s Sunflower series, which includes Vase With Twelve SunflowersTwo Cut Sunflowers, and Four Cut Sunflowers. Ai WeiWei was also inspired by the flowers in his Sunflower Seeds exhibit, an installation of millions of porcelain seeds handcrafted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in China, symbolizing the relationship between the individual and the masses.

Authors and other influential figures have used sunflower symbolism to inspire them too, causing them to write encouraging words like:

  • Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. It’s what the sunflowers do. – Helen Keller
  • Every friend is to the other a sun, and a sunflower also. He attracts and follows. – Jean-Paul
  • Light-enchanted sunflower, thou/ Who gazest ever true and tender/ On the sun’s revolving splendor. – Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Sunflower Facts

Sunflowers are often given on 3rd year wedding anniversaries as signs of adoration, loyalty, and strength.
Sunflowers typically bloom in the summer.
Many sunflowers are heat and drought tolerant, making them easy plants to grow.

In many folkloric traditions, sunflowers are seen as symbols of good luck. Planting them around your home and garden will bring fortune your way. It is also said that if you pick a sunflower at sunset, then wear it on your person, it will bring you good luck the following day.

Sunflowers are often associated with truth, loyalty, and honesty. If you want to know the truth about something, sleep with a sunflower under your pillow – and the next day, before the sun goes down, the truth should be revealed to you. The sunflower is considered a flower of loyalty because day after day, it follows the sun, from east to west. In some folk magic traditions, it is believed that slipping a bit of sunflower oil or seeds into someone’s food or drink will cause them to be loyal to you.

The sunflower is often associated with fertility, thanks to its connection to the sun. To bring about conception, eat sunflower seeds or take a ritual bath with sunflower petals. A necklace or crown of dried sunflower heads can be worn–particularly at Litha, the summer solstice–to bring about fertility.

In 17th Century Europe, some rural practitioners of folk magic used an ointment that would help them see the Faerie folk. This used a blend of several summers, sun-oriented flowers, mixed in with sunflower oil and left in the sun for three days until it thickened.

In some forms of Hoodoo, the sunflower is associated with great joy. The oil is often used as a base in magical oils for ritual purposes. You can blend your own magical sunflower oil by blending freshly harvested petals into a carrier or base of sunflower seed oil, which is available in most grocery stores–please note that this is not the traditional hoodoo sunflower oil recipe, but it is still one that is effective. Once you’ve mixed your oil, consecrate it according to the method of your own magical tradition before using it in spellwork or ritual. A simple way to do this, with sunflower oil, is to leave it in the sun to absorb solar energy prior to use.

Brew a tea of sunflower petals in water, and use it to asperge around a sacred space during Litha rituals or solar-related spellwork. If you’re grieving or feeling down, use sunflower petals in a ritual bath for a magical, sunny pick-me-up.

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