Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Incredible Edible Sunflower - First Leaf

Dear Folks,

Over that last half dozen or so years I have learned just how truly edible this beloved-flower is.  So I am going to do a series of posts (leafs) on all that is wonderful about this Americas Native and one of my top favorites to grow in the garden for total enjoyment.  (Pictured - one of the large ones leaning over - I call this Sunflower On My Shoulder, Makes Me Happy!)

The sunflower originated in the Americas and some archeologists believe it was domesticated before corn (2000 BBC approximate).  It was introduced to Europe in the 15th Century and cultivars made their way back to America later.

The fact that we live in the sub-tropical desert makes it even more important - I think - that all of your gardens of edibles include this multi-tasker of a plant.

Helianthus annuus is the official name of the wild, roadside herald of summer.  The wild sunflower produces many small flowers, whereas the domestic varieties which now come in a wide range of colors (from white to dark, dark maroon) produces 1 large flower with a few smaller side flowers.  The sunflower is a cousin to the artichoke which explains its edible qualities.  Jerusalem Artichoke another "branch" of the sunflower family is grown for its edible root tubers.  See my prior blog post here on harvest of the Jerusalem Artichoke (called "Sunchoke").

The height of the sunflower plant varieties can range from 3 or 4 feet to over 12 feet.  Many of the domestic hybrids are in the 5-7 range.

I have grown many of the colors in my garden over the years.  All are enjoyable, my favorites though are the bright yellow and red varieties.

The uses of the flower are truly amazing.  The Native People grew is as a "fourth sister" in their Three Sister (corn, beans, squash) growing concept.  The seed was eaten or ground into meal/flour.  Even the dried stalks were used as building material by the Native Peoples.

The sunflower provides enjoyment in other ways.  The Birds - particularly the finches are just delightful to watch grazing them.  You can build what I call an "Edible Playhouse."  Sunflower Houses are a very old, and enjoyable garden theme.  I discussed these with a little mockup at the "Mesa Celebrates Day," last weekend.
(The pictures are a collage of Gold Finches enjoying one of the wild sunflowers in our gardens, and a sunflower house picture I found on the internet.  The original source of the picture disappeared so I cannot give proper credit - if someone recognizes it as theirs I would be happy to give credit.)

Over the following "leaves" of this series I will discuss all the different edible parts, share cooking ideas and pictures.

Edible Parts:  Pretty much the whole plant.

Young stems, leaves and unopened flower buds.
Pared disc (head).
Seeds for chewing, sprouting, pressing for oil and flour/meal.
Roots (references to some use in medicine)

Give some serious thought to growing a sunflower house - google sunflower house and image and you will come up with many ideas.  In our desert gardens a sunflower house through the summer would provide a welcome shade area for children, grandchildren and the child-in-you to retreat.

The good news is you can plant sunflower seeds NOW.  Pre-soak overnight or up to 3 days (changing the water each day) and plant 6 to 12 inches apart in full sun.

Plant Sunflower Seeds from February through July - and you will have blooms from May through October.

You can read up more history of the Sunflower over on wikipedia.  And here at National Sunflower Association site.

Fun facts to look up about sunflowers:   "phototropism" and "fibonacci numbers"

For fun check out information on "May 1st International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day"

Make It A Sunflower Day!!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady