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Sunflower Mania Invades the Valley

Posted: Sunday, August 1, 2004

By: Dave Retz (Expired article)

Solvang, CA -

The Sunflower is one of the four indigenous species of plants in North America that are used globally. (The others are the blueberry, cranberry, and pecan). One great display site is the farm on the South side of Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton.

Native Americans in the U.S. used the wild sunflower for food and medicine for over 7,000 years. Archeological evidence suggests that Native Americans began cultivating the sunflower as early as 2300 B.C.

Throughout Europe (in countries such as Austria and Czechoslovakia) one can find vast fields of sunflowers next to ancient vineyards. The sunflower was sent by colonists and explorers from America to Europe in the early 1700's, and the sunflower was a delicacy. Why? Because it was one of the only oil-producing plants that was allowed during Advent and Lent by the Russian Orthodox Church. It was eagerly accepted as a delicacy and used in breads and other confections in the 1800's. Ironically, the Russians have bred sunflowers and improved their disease resistance, and the predominant sunflower grown in the US today is a transplant from - of all places - Russia. Donned the "Russian Giant", these plants grow to be up to 11 feet tall!

Watch out. Sunflower pollen contains a permanent yellow stain - so the most common sunflowers don't do well as cut flowers, since their pollen will stain any white dress or shirt. The solution: the pollenless varieties, that produce great cut flowers, but don't produce seeds.

Called Helianthus (drived from the Greek Helios, meaning Sun, and Anthus, meaning Flower), there are many varieties of sunflower. The flower grows well in a wide variety of climates and soils (especially in the clay-rich soil of the Santa Ynez Valley).

Their virtually care-free; just add water. If you want a low-cost source of sunflower seed - they're only about 30 cents per pound at El Rancho Market (for eating) or at Santa Ynez Mill and Feed. Well worth it, for a full garden of sunlight.

Sunflower seeds have lots of calcium. They do have 50% fat, but most of that is polyunsaturated linoleic acid, which isn't saturated fat.

One cute side-note: sunflowers try to "follow the sun", facing the sunrise and turning to face the sunset. The French word for sunflower is "Tournesol", or "Turn with the Sun".

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