While the tallest recorded sunflower stands at 23 feet, we are pretty impressed by our tallest sunflower in the garden. Although our farm is organic, and most of our gardens get natural fertilizer or compost, this stately sunflower received no manure, no special treatment, and grew from a tiny little seed. It stands at a little over twelve feet and should produce a large supply of sunflower seeds from it’s enormous flower head. The flower head itself is about two feet across from petal to petal. As one would expect, the stalk is enormous. It measures about 4 inches in diameter. Sunflowers also have an immense root structure to support themselves.
Just a Little Bit of History
Sunflowers are one of the first plants to be grown and cultivated in the United States. The Native Americans have been using the sunflower plant for thousands of years. They utilized not only the seeds for food, but they also used the flowers, stems and roots. The flowers and roots were used for dying, and the stems were put to use around their camps. As with many other herbs and plants, the Native Americans taught the settlers about the sunflower.
In today’s world, most of the sunflower seeds we eat are grown commercially in France, Spain, Peru, and China. Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a wonderful gift from the radiant yellow seed studded center of the flower. The greenish seeds are encased in a tear shaped shell that is whitish with a black stripe. (Or is that black with a white strip?) The seeds are loaded with vitamins and important minerals such as Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, and manganese.
The Vitamin E in Sunflowers
As it travels through the body, the antioxidants of Vitamin E helps to neutralize free radicals that cause damage to molecules, cell membranes, and brain cells. With it’s antioxidant protection, Vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, (OA), and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It can also be beneficial in helping symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Vitamin E also plays an essential role in the prevention of heart disease. Studies have shown that people who get enough Vitamin E in their diet reduce their chance of dying from a heart attack. Eating just a handful a day gives you over half of the dietary Vitamin E you need for the day.
Sunflower Seeds Help To Lower Cholesterol
Sunflowers contain a natural compound called phytosterols. Phytosterols is a natural chemical that is very similar to cholesterol. By eating sunflower seeds, phytosterols help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. These natural chemicals may also help to enhance the immune system, and help to reduce certain kinds of cancers. Many companies are choosing to extract these natural compounds and add them directly into food. The natural source would be the better choice.
Magnesium; An Important Mineral For Heart Health
Magnesium, also found in sunflower seeds, has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce asthma symptoms, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes. If one does not get a good amount of magnesium, it can contribute to high blood pressure.
Most of the magnesium in our bodies is found in our bones. Magnesium is necessary for healthy bones and daily energy.
If your diet does not provide enough magnesium, nerves can become over irrita
ted and cause muscle spasms. It can also be the cause of extreme muscle contractions. This can be the cause of a migraine headache, as well as tension and sore muscles.
Selenium Promotes Liver Detox of Cancer Cells
Selenium, a trace mineral, is very important to our health. Studies have shown that when selenium is taken, it inhibits the growing of cancer cells. It has been shown to generate DNA repair in damaged cells. When enough selenium is taken in our diet, the levels of harmful toxins in our liver are reduced. If there is not enough of the trace mineral present cancer cells tend to develop.
Easy Ways To Enjoy The Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
There are so many ways to enjoy these wonderful gifts of nature. If you are lucky enough to grow your own as we do, the seeds can be eaten raw right out of the shell. They have a wonderful flavor that can be added to many dishes:
- Add a handful of shucked seeds to your garden salad.
- Sprinkle a few into your morning yogurt to add a slightly nutty flavor.
- Toss a few into a turkey burger for a delightful crunch.
- Toast them in the oven. When they cool, store them in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
- Eat raw, right out of the shell!
Let us know how you eat your sunflower seeds!
Harvesting and Storing Seeds For Next Years Planting
Our sunflowers here at Cloverleaf Farm are now in the 8th generation of the original mother plant. We are avid seed savers, and what we don’t eat, we save for the next year’s planting season.
The large seed heads are let dry in the field until the first frost. We then bring them into our drying room, and there they hang for a couple of months. The winter is long here, so it gives us plenty of time to sort all the seeds.
When the flower head has completely dried, the seeds are plopped out of the large flower and put on a sheet to dry just a little more. Any moisture can ruin a batch of seeds quickly. They are then stored in a one gallon glass jars in our seed warehouse.