The storied sunflower is a truly incredible plant; tall and majestic, a few sunflowers make any garden a must –see. The centerpiece of any self respecting still-life it is prized and heavily cultivated for its seeds and oil and pastoral images of acres of sunflowers all with their heads held high toward the sun is an iconic image of late summer in many places throughout Ontario.
Though the most famous image of sunflowers hails from a Dutch painter, sunflowers are actually native to North America. It is believed they were cultivated as far back as 2,600 B.C.E. in Mexico, then throughout the southern regions of what is now the U.S. and were imported to Europe in the 16th Century. The most common and most cultivated sunflower, which can easily reach heights of 3 metres, is the annual plant Helianthus annuus. Over seventy other species exist as well, annuals and perrenials, garden varieties of all shapes and sizes.
The reason we call them sunflowers is obvious; the Greek scientific name for them is Helianthus, literally sun+flower, so named because when they are immature they face and follow the sun’s movement (as it were) from east to west, a phenomenon known as heliotropism, “growing toward the sun.” Once they start blooming they don’t follow the sun, but largely just face East. According to Greek Mythology, the sunflower-and its name- is a result of unrequited love between a nymph named Clytie and the Sun God Helios:
Clytie was a nymph who was infatuated with Helios, the god of the sun. She would watch him as he traveled on his daily course through the sky. Helios, however, had an eye for the ladies. Indeed, his roving eye had fallen on a woman named Leucothoe. Now of course this affair between Helios and Leucothoe just drove Clytie almost mad with jealousy. She wanted the god for herself, after all. So she betrayed the relationship to Leucothoe’s father, Orchamus. Orchamus was the king of Babylon, and not too pleased with the situation. He punished his daughter by burying her alive. Well, this tragic outcome did nothing to soften the heart of Helios toward Clytie. In fact, he continued to ignore her. Clytie wasted away, suffering from unrequited love. She did nothing but watch the god day in and day out. Probably accompanied by a great deal of sighing. Eventually, the poor nymph was changed into a flower – a sunflower to be exact. As a sunflower, Clytie persisted in gazing toward the object of her desire.- mythography.com
Sunflowers are farmed mostly for their seeds, and for the oil contained therein. Sunflower seeds are an excellent, source of vitamin E, B1, B6, B3, manganese, copper and selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin, folate, and niacin. Sunflower oil, an unsaturated, nutrient dense fat is an excellent source of lineolic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid and stearic acid with numerous health benefits tied to cardiovascular and skin health, high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Sunflower oil provides 124 calories and 14 grams of fat per 1 tablespoons serving. About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and obesity increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. However, a moderate amount of fat in your diet — such as 20 to 35 percent of your calories from fat, or 44 to 78 grams fat per day on a 2,000-calorie diet — can help you maintain a healthy weight while getting the nutrients you need, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In moderation, sunflower oil is a healthy fat that can help you achieve this range .-Livestrong.com