Sunflower | What's that?
Scientific name: Helianthus annuus L.
Family: Composite family (Asteraceae)
Origin: The wild sunflower originated in North America.
Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe by Spanish sailors in the 16th century. Sunflowers are now found around the world.
Botany: Generally grows to a height of 1–3 m, although 3 m is rare. The flower head has a diameter of 10–40 cm.
Flowering season: July to September
Parts of the plant used: Flowers, leaves and seeds
What makes this plant so special
Sunflowers love the sun – which explains why their botanical classification ‘Helianthus’ comes from the Greek words ‘helios’ (meaning ‘sun’) and ‘anthos’ (meaning ‘flower’). The sunflower’s buds and leaves follow the sun throughout the day, moving from east to west – sunflowers are therefore like a kind of natural compass. This characteristic of always turning towards the sun is called heliotropism.
Sunflowers grow to between 1.5 and 3 m within just a few months. The world’s tallest sunflower even reached a height of 9 m! Sunflowers only live for one year, however.
The brown disc flowers in the centre of the sunflower can produce up to 1,000 seeds. Sunflower seeds are commonly used in cooking and salads or added to bird feed. Their main use, however, is for sunflower oil, which is extracted from the seeds. Besides being used for cooking, sunflower oil is also used in industrial, medical and pharmaceutical applications. Eastern traditions use sunflower oil for detoxification and purification. Traditional medicine uses it for oil treatments. The active substances in sunflower seeds are also thought to have a positive effect on hair, skin and nails, and to help strengthen nerves. Tea made of roasted sunflower seeds or petals has beneficial effects and can help soothe coughs and colds.
The oil extracted from sunflower seeds is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and has a high carotene and vitamin E content. These have antioxidant properties that protect cells from harm and promote tissue repair. High-quality sunflower extracts strengthen the skin barrier and have a soothing, smoothing effect.