You may not think that there is much to know about me, I seem to be quite common, but I am quite the globe trotter. My story starts in the pre-European Americas then to Tsarist Russia and back again—my story has the historical and continental sweep of a Hollywood epic.
In the beginning, it was the Cherokee and other Native Americans who began to farm sunflowers. I was an important part of their diet as a good source of fat – which hunter gatherer societies needed to supplement the lean meat they ate. Down south in Mexico the Aztecs were also cultivating my ancestors but also, they worshipped us. In their temples to the sun, the priestesses would wear headdresses made of my beautiful leaves to give themselves the air of the divine. Now my story gets interesting, you see not long after the discovery of the New World by the Europeans, they saw the benefit of transporting seeds across the Atlantic and beyond. It is thought that my first seeds arrived in the Old World (Spain) around the beginning of the sixteenth century. Because of my wonderful size and beauty (I was considered very exotic) I was used mostly as an ornamental plant. It was not until the eighteenth century that I gained huge popularity as a cultivated plant and the person we have to thank for that is perhaps not the first who might spring to mind. Peter, the Great of Russia, went on one of his many trips and landed up in Holland. There, he became so enamored with us that he took seeds back to Russia. During Lent, the Russian Orthodox Church forbad its adherents from consuming oil. However, the oil of the sunflower was not on the prohibited list and the Russian people jumped on Peter’s bandwagon wholeheartedly. By the third decade of the nineteenth century sunflower oil was manufactured in Russia on a large and highly lucrative commercial scale. Russia was growing over two million acres a year. The government even invested money in to what we now call research projects and one scientist, VS Pustovoit was the originator of the most successful breeding project, the “Mammoth Russian Sunflower”. So, by 1830 it was time for us to make our triumphant return to the Americas. You see Russian immigrants to the US and Canada took our seeds with them and by the 1880s companies were offering the ‘Mammoth Russian’ in their catalogues. There you have it, the ancient hunter gatherers started our journey of travels, they should be proud of their first and earliest contribution to my fascinating tale.
I may be pretty but there is so much more you don’t know about me; you will be dazzled by my health benefits. Just a scant handful of my little seeds can dramatically improve the way you feel. I can control cell damage, thus playing a role in preventing cancer. This is because I am a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is of fundamental importance to human health. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer has suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequences the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells.
I contain bone-healthy minerals. Besides calcium, your bones need magnesium and copper to stay strong. Numerous studies have demonstrated that magnesium helps reduce the severity of asthma, lower high blood pressure, and prevent migraine headaches, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. My magnesium is also being reputed for soothing the nerves, thus easing away stress, and helping you relax. As a bonus, I contain Vitamin E which combats UV rays and keeps skin youthful. Vitamin E travels throughout the body neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage fat-containing structures and molecules, such as cell membranes, brain cells, and cholesterol. By protecting these cellular and molecular components, vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role. AND, I’m loaded with antioxidants. Just ¼ cup of sunflower seeds a day can keep heart troubles away. I disallow ‘bad’ cholesterol from sticking to the walls of your arteries, thus preventing heart attacks.
I am crunchy and have a delectable nutty flavor. You can easily make me a regular part of your daily diet. Sprinkle me on your salads, granola or in your stir-fries. Stir me into yogurt, add me to you sandwiches, rice, pasta or knead me into your dough…the possibilities are endless! Put me into your favorite tuna, chicken or turkey salad recipe. Sprinkle me into scrambled eggs or even into your pancakes, I will give anything you eat a unique healthy taste and texture. Yay, Yippee, Yahoo, I’m the BEST.
Caramelized Sunflower Kernels
These are addictive so be careful. Keep at room temperature in a sealed container and crunch away at will!
1/3 cup raw sunflower seed kernels
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Heat sunflower kernels in a non-stick skillet about 3 minutes over medium-high heat. Stir in the brown sugar, stirring constantly until melted and kernels are coated. Turn out onto waxed paper to cool. Use as a snack or sprinkle on salads, fruit, or sweet potatoes.
Broccoli Sunflower Seed Salad Recipe
This broccoli and sunflower seed recipe with red onion, dried fruit and bacon is a party stopper. The creamy dressing is amazing.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar.
2 (8-ounce) packages broccoli florets 1 cup salted sunflower seeds
1 medium red onion, chopped 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
10 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, vinegar and sugar until smooth. Place broccoli, sunflower seeds, red onion, dried fruit, and bacon in a large bowl. Add dressing and gently toss to combine. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.
Banana Sunflower Seed Cookies
If you love sunflower seeds, you will love these banana cookies studded with chocolate chips or double up on the sunflower seeds and omit the chocolate chips. You also could use dried fruit instead.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda
2 very ripe medium bananas, peeled and mashed 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips or dried fruit
Whisk together flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat bananas, butter, and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Add flour mixture half at a time, beating to incorporate. Fold in sunflower seeds and chocolate chips. Refrigerate cookie dough for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Cold dough helps keep the cookies from spreading.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop about 1 teaspoonful of cookie dough for each cookie and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until edges are lightly golden. Makes about 36 cookies
Stay Happy and Healthy this year. Know that I care for you.