Of America’s origin, this sun-like plant was brought to Europe in 16 century and since then it became very famous due to its nutritional value and health benefits of the sunflower seeds and sunflower oil.
Sunflower is also famous as a symbol of the green ideology, light and the Sun. Some countries use it as their national flower, as Ukraine, or as their state flower, as Kansas. In Japan, in Kitakuyushi, sunflowers are embraced as their city flowers.
Certain evidence was found in Mexico that proved that sunflower was domesticated in this area around 4000 B.C.
It is now known that many ingenious tribes in America used sunflower as the symbol of their deity; the civilizations such as Incas, Aztecs and Otomi.
Zuni people used fresh or dried sunflower root as a remedy against the snakebite. The medicine man chews it, sucks the snakebite and after that applies it on the wound as poultice.
Most importantly, it is proved that flowering sunflowers heads do not track the sun across the sky. Although immature flowers may follow the sun, mature flowering heads have fixed direction. The English botanist John Gerard disputed this misconception in 1597.
This annual plant, known as Helianthus annuus, belongs to Asteraceae family. Its flower head actually consists of numerous small flowers; know as florets, they are always in spiral pattern. To grow fully they need sun, and fertile, and well-drained soil.
Sunflower seeds are popular snack food, for humans and birds.
Sunflower oil is used in cooking, and to produce mandarin and biodiesel. Sunflowers can extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as arsenic, uranium and lead.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are smooth on the surface, approximately 6 – 10 mm in length, with conical shape. Each sunflower head may contain several hundred of edible seeds. They seeds of high nutritional value, rich with minerals, vitamins and acids, and high in energy; 100 grams of seeds contain 584 calories.
Sunflower seeds are rich with fatty acids. More than 50 % of their fatty acids are comprise of linoleic acid. Another important compound is mono-unsaturated oleic acid that can help lower LDL cholesterol, and increase the “good cholesterol”. Seeds also contain quinic acid, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid. These poly-phenol compounds are natural antioxidants that help remove harmful molecules from the body. 100 grams of sunflower seeds contain 227 µg of folic acid. This acid is essential for DNA synthesis. According to one research, when taken during the peri-conception period, it may prevent neural defects in the baby.