The very useful sunflower herb
Photograph by Wee Keat Chin
The sun-worshipping Aztecs of Peru decorated their temples with wrought-gold sunflowers and crowned their priestesses with sunflowers.
Introduced into Europe by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, sunflowers are now extensively grown for oils and for ornamental value.
Little gets wasted; the stems yield a paper-making fibre, the seeds produce a low-cholesterol oil, and the leaves are used for herbal tobaccos and cattle fodder.
The growing plant is an excellent soil improver, and is also effective in draining water-logged soils.
Bees get wax and nectar from the flowers, which also yield a yellow dye.
Medicinal: The seeds have diuretic and expectorant properties and have been used to treat coughs, colds and bronchitis.
Culinary: The seeds are high in protein, minerals and vitamins and can be eaten fresh or used as a flour.
Easy to grow, especially in manure-rich soil and with plenty of sun and water.
Harvesting & storage: The seeds are ripe when the flowerheads droop. Cut off heads and leave to dry. When dry the seeds will easily fall out. Store in cool, dry place until needed.