One cold winter day, a lady asked an old herbalist what he would use for diarrhea. She was surprised when he said. “You see those old sunflower heads sticking up out of the snow, yeah, those old dried up ones that the birds have eaten all the seeds out of and the wind and snow have beat up for a spell? Well, you get just a few of them and put them in a pot of water and heat ‘em up good for awhile. Then you take a tablespoon of that tea every little while, and pretty soon you won’t have diarrhea any more. But, you want to be careful because you take too much and it could give you constipation.” You know, she tried it and sure enough it worked.
Throughout most of the West, as you are driving along, you can see great numbers of sunflower plants growing along the roads and across the fields. They grow from three to eight feet tall according to the moisture they receive and what kind of soil they are growing in. As the sun comes up, they will face the east and as the day passes, they will turn their heads sothey6 will always face the sun. We don’t think much of the sunflower because there are so many of them; they grow everywhere. A friend said to me one time that if you could ever figure something useful to do with all of those sunflowers you could make a million dollars.
The Native Americans and early settlers found plenty of ways to use this plant. They used together the heads when the yellow petals were wilted (then the flower was fully ripe), then they would boil the heads and collect the oil that would float from out of the small seeds. They would use it for many purposes, including a hair dressing.
The seeds from some of the bigger heads were roasted and pounded into a bread meal or they were roasted and eaten, much as we eat the larger seeds today. The roots were pounded and used as poultices along with other roots for snakebites and other stings and bites. Early herbalists used the sunflower along with other herbs for bronchitis, sore throats and other respiratory problems that hampered breathing. Some old time herbalists said that sunflower seeds, when boiled down in a pot, would act as a diuretic and ere known to help prostate problems. Some pioneers said their arthritic aches and pains were helped when they bathed them in a tea made from fresh or dried blossoms. Sometimes the pith of the stalk would be made into a tea and used as an eye wash.
The sunflower wasn’t just used as an herb for medicinal purposes. The fibers of the stocks were used by some Indians to make mats, baskets and sandals. They were braised and used for fish nets and snares.
Almost all vegetables, at one time, existed as a weed in the wild state. The cabbage, carrot and celery were one just wild weed. The sunflower originated in North America. However, by 1509, the Spaniards brought the sunflower to Spain. It was quickly distributed through Europe. Peter the Great saw the sunflower while visiting Holland. It was not long until the sunflower weed as we know it now was grown as a crop in farms from the Ukraine to Siberia. The sunflower is one of the main crops in North Dakota.
Sunflower seeds are very nutritious and loaded with minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, natural fluorine, phosphorus, iron, iodine, 30% protein, also thiamine, niacin, and vitamin D. Next time you see a sunflower, you’ll know it’s more than just a weed. It’s a food, and in the past it has served mankind well.