Sunflower: Mammoth (Helianthus annuus)
Harvesting & Storage
Nutrition & Health Benefits
Also known as: Grey Stripe.
Ease of Growing: Easy
Grown as: Annual
Days to Maturity: 90-100 days
Hardiness: Half Hardy. Sunflowers will tolerate light frost.
Crops: Spring Transplant, Spring, Summer
Growing Season: Long
Growing Conditions: Warm, Hot. Sunflowers needs rich soil for good growth. They prefer full sun (though they will tolerate light shade). The taller varieties need shelter from the wind and should be placed where they won't cast unwanted shade on other plants.
Outdoor Growing Temp: 55°F - 95°F
Min Outdoor Soil Temp: 50°F, Don't plant out until the soil is at least 50˚ F (and preferably 60˚ F).
Start Indoors: Yes
Start Outdoors: Yes
Light: Sun: min. 6 hours daily (Warm, Hot). Full sun.
Water: Moderate. Sunflowers are thirsty plants and for maximum production they need a constant supply of water.
Feeder: Low nitrogen. High phosphorus. High potassium. Sunflowers like phosphorus and potassium, but not too much nitrogen as it may encourage leaf growth rather than flowering.
Suitability: High heat, Needs lots of space
Small Gardens?: Yes
Attracts beneficial insects?: Yes. Butterflies, Birds, Bee's.
Plant Height: 8-12'
Plant Diameter: 12-18"
Sow Depth: 1 1/2-3"
Produces: a plant with very large, serrated leaves and yellow flower heads that range in size from 12-24" in diameter.
USDA Grow Zone: 3a-9b
When and How: Seed Pods, 1-14 days after maturity
When: When the seeds are ripe the whole heads droop, and the seeds are fat and plump. Sample a few to see if they are fully ripe. Once ripe, harvest immediately before the birds and squirrels harvest all your seed.
How: The easiest way to harvest the seeds is to cut off the whole heads. Dry them in the sun and then rub the heads against a screen (or against each other) to free the seeds.
Storage Req: Drying
Storage Temp: 55-70°F
Storage Length: 180-360 days
Seed Viability in Years: 3-5 years
Edible oil: Modern varieties of seed may contain up to 60% oil. This can be extracted by pressing the crushed seeds, or you can do as Native Americans used to. They boiled the kernels in water and skimmed the edible oil off from the surface.
Sprouts: The raw whole seed can be sprouted like Alfalfa. Don't let the sprouts get too big or they may develop an acrid taste.
Eating Sunflower seeds: If you are to grow Sunflowers for their edible seeds, you really need to learn how to eat them. Start by putting a seed vertically between your molars (chewing teeth) so the seed holds in the indentations. Crack the seed gently, then use your tongue to separate the smooth seed from the rough shell. Finally you spit out the shell. This is harder to do than it is to describe and it takes quite a bit of practice to get it down smoothly. Eventually you can have a store of seeds in one cheek, crack them on the other side of your mouth and spit out the shells in a continuous stream.
Francisco Hernandez, an early Spanish explorer, ascribed aphrodisiac powers to the sunflower. Charles H. Lange, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, wrote that “among the Cochiti, a reliable ‘home remedy’ for cuts and other wounds is the juice of freshly crushed sunflower stems. The juice is smeared liberally over the wounds, bandaged, and invariably results in a speedy recovery, with never a case of infection”.
According to Moerman (1986) sunflowers were used in the following ways:
- The Cherokee used an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys.
- The Dakota used an infusion of sunflowers for chest pains and pulmonary troubles.
- The Gros Ventres, Rees, and Mandan used sunflowers ceremonially; oil from the seeds were used to lubricate or paint the face and body.
- The Gros Ventres, Mandan, Rees, and Hidatsa used sunflower seeds as a stimulant, taken on a war party or hunt to alleviate fatigue.
- The Hopi used the sunflower plant as a “spider medicine” and dermatological aid.
- The Navajo ate sunflower seeds to stimulate the appetite.
- The Navaho-Kayenta used the plant for the sun sand painting ceremony and as a disinfectant to prevent prenatal infections caused by the solar eclipse.
- The Navaho-Ramah used a salve of pulverized seed and root to prevent injury from a horse falling on a person and as a moxa of the pith to remove warts.
- The Paiute used a decoction of sunflower root to alleviate rheumatism.
- Pawnee women ate a dry seed concoction to protect suckling children.
- The Pima applied a poultice of warm ashes to the stomach for worms and used a decoction of leaves for high fevers and as a wash for horses’ sores caused by screwworms.
- The Thompson Indians used powdered sunflower leaves alone or in an ointment on sores and swellings.
- The Zuni used a poultice of sunflower root to treat snakebite, along with much ritual and ceremony.
Thanks to their enormous size, sunflowers cast quite a shadow. In the middle of the day, when sunlight is most intense, it can bake and burn vegetable plants, but growing those plant under sunflowers' giant blossoms provides them with much-needed shade. Cucumbers and lettuce, for instance, can be grown beneath sunflowers to take advantage of the shelter they offer. Melons also need protection from the sun's harsh rays and grow well beneath sunflowers.
Some plants grow well together because they thrive in the same type of soil. Numerous bush bean varieties, such as wax, lima and green beans, are good sunflower companions for that reason. All of these plants are well-suited to acidic soil, with a pH level ranging from 6.5 to 7.5. Because bush beans provide their own nitrogen and don't require heavy amounts of nutrients, they don't compete with sunflowers for food, preventing the two kinds of plants from harming one another.
Though they are tiny, aphids are a serious problem for many plants, including flowers and vegetables. With their sharp, piercing mouths, aphids drain plants of their fluids can destroy entire gardens. Aphids also like to attack sunflowers, but they do little damage because of the sunflowers' thick stalks and overall toughness. If other plants suffer from an aphid infestation, plant a few sunflowers to act as distracting decoys.
Many plants, particularly those with long, winding vines, need trellises to support them as they grow. Although it’s possible to erect a store-bought, metal or plastic trellis, sunflowers are a natural, beautiful alternative. Vine cucumber and corn plants need support as they mature and can be trained to grow along sunflowers' stalks, which are strong enough to handle the other plants' weight.
The Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Prevents cellular damage: Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, which is a vital component of your day-to-day nutritional needs. These seeds are great antioxidants that stop the extensive spread of free radicals within the human body. These free radicals can lead to a variety of cellular damage and diseases. Rich, natural sources of vitamin E are rare, but sunflower seeds are rich in this vitamin, which aids in the proper functioning of the circulatory system. Vitamin E also helps the blood to clot readily when you experience external wounds, thereby helping speed up the healing process. Sunflower seeds also help to lower the risk of cardiac diseases and diabetes. The selenium present in sunflower seeds repairs cellular damage and eliminates the spread of cancerous cells.
Improves Digestion: Sunflower seeds have a large amount of dietary fiber. If your body is deficient of fiber, you may experience a host of health problems like constipation, piles, hemorrhoids, colon cancer and many others. Severe digestive problems can even increase toxicity within your intestines. The recommended amount of fiber is around 30 grams per day for an adult. However, it has been noted in surveys that most people fail to consume even 15 grams per day. By including sunflower seeds in your diet, you can easily get a rich supply of the dietary fiber and reduce the possibility of digestion-related problems.
Increases Energy Levels: Most athletes enjoy eating sunflower seeds, as these seeds offer high amounts of protein and carbohydrates. These seeds aid the liver’s discharge of glycogen into the bloodstream. Glycogen is a form of sugar; thereby providing an extra boost of quick energy.
Strengthens Bones and Muscles: The iron in sunflower seeds distributes oxygen to your muscles, while zinc strengthens your immune system and helps you to avoid coughs and cold. Magnesium is also essential for strong bones and energy production. Almost 2/3 of the magnesium in the human body is stored in the bones. Magnesium aids the bones in their physical structure and strength, while the remaining magnesium is found on the surface of the bones, which is used up by the body as required. The high magnesium content in sunflower seeds lowers your blood pressure; thus reducing the possibility of a heart attack or stroke.
Improves Brain Health: It has been proven in several studies that sunflower seeds can actually have a calming effect on your brain and also help uplift your mood. This property of sunflower seeds is due to the high content of tryptophan present within the seeds. When you have foods containing tryptophan, it efficiently increases your brain’s fabrication of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter. Serotonin also effectively reduces tension, thereby creating a relaxed feeling. The choline content in these seeds plays a vital role in memory and vision functions. Sunflower seeds have high amounts of betaine, which effectively protects against cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure. Moreover the presence of arginine in these seeds is also responsible for a healthy heart. The lignans keeps blood cholesterol at appropriate levels, thus preventing heart attacks and atherosclerosis.
Helpful During Pregnancy: Sunflower seeds are abundant in folate content, also known as folic acid, which is a type of vitamin B. Folate is very good for pregnancy, as it helps in the production of new cells in the body, thereby promoting the replication of DNA and RNA, which is very significant for the growth and development of the fetus. It works in association with vitamin B-12 to form hemoglobin in the red blood cells. By having enough folate in your body, you also lower the chances of heart ailments.
The Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil
Treats Athlete’s Foot: Research suggests that sunflower oil is also an effective remedy for treating Athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis). Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that starts between the toes and the topical application of the sunflower oil helps in curing it faster.
Boosts Heart Health: Sunflower oil, in moderation, is a good choice for those who want to keep an eye on their heart health and prevent atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can clog arteries, raise blood pressure, and increase your chances of suffering a heart attack or a stroke. The presence of choline, phenolic acid, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats in sunflower oil boosts the energy and also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Improves Immune System: Sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. It has been directly connected to preventing heart disease and boosting your immune system.
Skin Care: Sunflower oil, rich in vitamin E, is specifically related to improving skin health and regenerating cells. This means your skin is better protected against damage from the sun, as well as the natural degradation of age that occurs when free radicals are present in the body. Antioxidants like vitamin E neutralize free radicals, keeping them from destroying or damaging healthy cells. You can see an increased reduction in scars, quicker wound healing, and a healthier natural glow to your skin. This is a major reason why sunflower oil is commonly used in cosmetic applications.
Some people use sunflower oil for massaging premature infants having low birth weight or other complications. It is claimed that this effectively lowers the chances of developing skin infections. Since their organs (including their skin) are in an underdeveloped stage, this oil acts as a protective barrier. However, sufficient scientific literature is not available on this benefit of sunflower oil.
Boosts Energy: The fatty acid content in sunflower oil is connected to energy levels in the body. Saturated fats can make you feel sluggish, while unsaturated fats, of which sunflower oil has many, can keep you feeling energized.
Prevents Cancer: As mentioned above, sunflower oil is rich in antioxidants and substances that act as antioxidants. Vitamin E, which has a group of compounds known as tocopherols, is a powerful antioxidant that can eliminate free radicals before they can mutate healthy cells into cancerous cells. Specifically, sunflower oil has been linked to preventing colon cancer and there are a number of ongoing research studies to verify its effects on a wider variety of cancers.
Reduces Inflammation: Asthma affects millions of people around the world, and this respiratory condition can range from mild to life-threatening. Sunflower oil has been positively correlated with a lower amount and severity of asthma attacks because of its anti-inflammatory qualities, which are derived from its vitamin content, as well as the beneficial fatty acids it contains.
Reduces Severity of Arthritis: Along with asthma, sunflower oil has also been linked to a reduction in severity of arthritis.
Protects Body: They also have a significant effect on the general immune system and increase the body’s ability to resist attacks by infection. Sunflower oil protects the skin by strengthening the membrane barriers, thereby making it harder for bacteria and viruses to enter the body.
Prevents Infections: Sunflower oil is highly recommended for infants because it can protect them from infections, particularly when they are born premature and are highly susceptible to them. This same benefit is extended to adults who use the oil as well, although the effects are not quite as dramatic on them.
Others: Like the sunflower seed, sunflower oil is also rich in vitamin E. Thus, being an antioxidant, it counterbalances cancer-causing free radicals. Vitamin E also prevents asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and colon cancer. While the magnesium content prevents muscle cramps, tryptophan helps in relaxing the brain and cures insomnia.
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