We are still having winter here. Yeah, yeah – January, I know. Today though, it’s finally out of the 30°’s. It’s raining. Could be worse – could be sleeting again. So, yesterday when it was still freezing and there was still ice on everything, I went to the store and took a slow trip through the garden section. (Visions of flowers dancing in my head.) Mostly I saw hoses and path lights and some tools. Then, I chanced on the just-out seed display. New seeds packets – yea! I bought three.
This year I’d like to try my hand at planting sunflowers again. Lord knows, I’ll have plenty of room in my flower beds. So – if you’re thinking about green growing flowering things, here’s a little info on Sunflowers (yes, an herb!)
Helianthus or sunflower is a member of the Asteraceae family. For the most part, sunflowers are native to North America and got their name from the round flower head with its yellow petals that looks like the sun. They are pretty flowers and there are a variety of styles, sizes, and colors. Did you know Sunflowers are also an important food source and a major agricultural crop from North Dakota to Texas.
There is evidence that confirms that sunflowers were cultivated by Native Americans as early as 3000 BC. They trained and grew this into the single headed plant with the large flower seed head we recognize today.
From then to now, Sunflower plants were and are an important source of food, medicine, fiber, seeds, and oil. The seed can be ground or pounded into flour for cakes or bread or, cracked and eaten as a snack. The oil from the seeds can be used in everything from high-heat applications or salad dressing.
This is a medicinal herb. A poultice of leaves can be used for treatment of snakebite, spider bites, and arthritis. A tincture prepared of the petals is thought to be effective in the case of a sore throat. Leaves, in a tincture, are used as expectorant, diuretic and astringent. Additionally, sunflower leaf tea helps to reduce fever.
Another use, it produces a purple dye for textiles. The oil of the seed can be used on skin and hair. And, the dried stalk can be used to make a trellis.
Due to its deep roots and ability to soak up water and harmful substances, sunflowers are often used for the drying of wetlands and cleaning of contaminated soil including waste waters, lead, and radioactive substances.
They make a good companion plant for roses and tomatoes, offer a strong stalk for cucumbers to climb on, offer shade for lettuce and spinach. However, they don’t like to be close to potatoes or pole beans.
And, so as to cover all bases, 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 grow best in locations with full sun. They are remarkably tough and will grow in any kind of soil. Once they get going, they are drought tolerate. You can start the seeds in peat pots indoors, however they grow best seeded directly in the soil after all danger of frost is past. Keep the seed watered until they sprout – 7 to 10 days. They should mature within 80 to 120 days so depending on your area, you might want to plant several rows over several weeks. Sunflowers don’t require fertilizing but for the tall plants, you might want to stake the stems because they can be vulnerable to wind and heavy rain. They don’t have much in the way of disease problems – occasionally may develop fungal problems. Those don’t usually hurt the plant – just make it less attractive.
Let the flower head dry on the stalk for the birds. Though, I'm sure in my case, it will be for the squirrels.
So, here’s something old that might be new for your yard!