Sunflowers

Helianthus annus

Planetary ruler:Sun

Element: fire

Associated deities: Inti

Magical virtues: sun, Midsummer, happiness, blessings, fertility, abundance, strength, courage, action, self-image, consecration

With their large, heart-shaped leaves and giant flowers that look like bright, rayed suns, I don’t think any plant is more cheerful than a sunflower.  These tall, annual plants are native to north and central America but now widely cultivated throughout the world.   And they are so easy to grow!

The botanical name is derived from the Greek words helios meaning ‘sun’ and anthos meaning ‘flower’.  This also accounts for the plant’s common name, a reference to the way in which the flowers turn to follow the path of the sun across the sky during the day.  Sunflowers were unknown in ancient Greece, and despite what I keep reading on the internet, the flower that Apollo turned the nymph Clytie into was not helianthus, but the calendula marigold, which was also called sunflower from the way it responds to the sun. 

Native Americans have grown sunflowers for at least 3,000 years and for food, fodder, fibre and oil.  In Central and South American the sunflower was a symbol of the sun.  Aztecs priestesses carried them during the ceremonies, and wore jewellery in the shape of sunflowers. For the Incas, the sunflower was in the image of Inti, their sun god.  The sunflower was introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century by Spanish explorers.  It was grown for the first time in 1562 in Madrid from seeds from Mexico and Peru.

Sunflowers were widely employed in folk medicine. Native Americans used them as a remedy for snakebite and boiled the seeds to make an oil to dress their hair.  Whole flowers were boiled by the Dakota for lung problems.  Russians also used them for lung problems and preserved the stalks and leaves in vodka for gout.  Sunflowers were smoked in the USA for hayfever.  [1] In Iran and Turkey, a tincture made from the seeds was used as a substitute for quinine to relieve fevers.  Sunflower seeds were made into necklaces to protect the wearer from smallpox.

MAGICAL USES:

Sunflowers represent joy, luck and abundance.  Plant them in your garden or have some in your house for good fortune. Put some sunflowers on your dining table to invoke plenty or put the petals in potpourri.

They are plants of fertility. Eat sunflower seeds or sunflower oil.  Use them in fertility spells and charms. Wear a necklace of sunflower seeds.

The sunflower is considered a flower of loyalty because day after day, it follows the sun from east to west.  Use sunflowers in rituals and shared food to foster the loyalty of a group. Use it in charms and spells to ensure fidelity.  

They are flowers of the Sun and can be used to honour sun gods, in all solar rituals and magic, but particularly the Summer Solstice. Wear it in chaplets, use it in decorations, add sunflower seeds and oil to the food, drink Sunflower Tea or add the petals to incense. The flowers can be boiled to yield a yellow dye for robes and other ritual clothing for Midsummer. 

The stems are fibrous and excellent for home-made paper making for ritual scrolls and books.

If you are feeling depressed, use the energy of sunflowers in a flower essence, take Sunflower Tea, or soak in a bath to which sunflower petals have been added. Use in spells to improve your self-image.

Use sunflower oil to consecrate healing stones and gems.

Add to charms designed for courage and action.

CULINARY USES:

Their seeds are rich source of vitamin E, vitamin B1, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate and niacin. 

The seeds can be eaten raw or roasted, added to bread, cakes and salads, or used as a coffee substitute. 

They can be ground into a powder to use as a gluten free flour.  When mixed with cereal flours, it makes a nutritious bread.

Sunflower Seed Butter can be used as a sandwich filling, for dips and spreads. 

The sprouted seed can be eaten in salads and sandwiches. 

The young fresh flower buds can be steamed and served like globe artichokes.

The petals can be made into tea, added to salads, used as a garnish or added to soups, stews and rice dishes. 

COSMETIC USES:

Macerated Sunflower Oil contains antioxidants and moisturising agents that help prevent aging and can help minimise wrinkles.  It is suitable for all skin types.

You can massage the oil directly into your face and body (be sparing). Add it to baths.

Add sunflower petals to soaps and bath bombs.  

MEDICINAL USES:

Actions: valuable antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, wound healing

Sunflower Seed Tea or Sunflower Tincture may be useful for bronchial, laryngeal and pulmonary infections, coughs and colds and in whooping cough.  [2]

A tea made from the leaves is used to reduce high fevers. 

The crushed leaves can be used as a poultice on sores, swellings and insect bites. 

CAUTION:

The growing plant can accumulate nitrates, especially when fed on artificial fertilizers.  The pollen or plant extracts may cause allergic reactions.  Sunflower oil is considered generally safe for oral and topical use.  The plant can trigger asthma and skin allergies in sensitive people. 

RECIPES

Sunflower Seed Tea

1 handful seeds, crushed

600 ml/ 1 pt./ 2 cups water

Boil the seeds in water for 20 minutes, strain and sweeten with honey of desired.  This will ease coughs.

Sunflower Petal Oil

250 ml vegetable oil (preferably sunflower)

Handful of sunflower petals

In a double boiler, combine the oil and petals and simmer very gently for 2 hours.  Strain into a clean jar.

Sunflower Skin Toner

Sunflower petals

Witch hazel

Crush the flowers and put them into a jar.  Cover with the witch hazel.  Leave overnight and strain into a clean bottle. 

Sunflower Petal Salve

Sunflower petal oil (as above)

Beeswax or soy wax

Slightly warm your prepared oil, and add the beeswax, allowing 1 tbsp.  of grated beeswax to 250 ml of macerated oil.  

Sunflower Lip Balm

6 tbsp. beeswax, grated

7 tbsp. sunflower petal oil (as above)

2 tsp. runny honey

In a double boiler, warm the oil and honey together (do not boil). Remove from the heat and stir in the wax until it has melted. Pour into small pots and seal.

 

Sunflower Seed Butter

Sunflower seeds

Salt

Put a handful or two of sunflower seeds in your food processor and whizz them up.  You are looking for a consistency like peanut butter. Be careful not to overheat the motor of your processor and stop now and again if necessary. It will take at least 10 minutes. Scrape it out and add salt to taste and put into a clean jar. It will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Sunflower Tincture

Sunflower leaves, dried

Vodka

Put the crumbled leaves in a glass jar and cover with the vodka.  Put a lid on the jar.  Infuse 10 days in a cool, dark place.  Strain.  Take 20 drops in water three times a day for fevers.


[1] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[2] Guo, S., Ge, Y.  & Na Jom, K.  A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and medicinal uses of the common sunflower seed and sprouts (Helianthus annuus L.).  Chemistry Central Journal 11, 95 (2017).  https://doi.org/10.1186/s13065-017-0328-7

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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