Sunflower seeds: how they are grown what are their properties and how to use them
General characteristics and peculiarities of Sunflower
In Italian it’s called "girasole" (Sun-turner) because the flowers looks for solar light and heat by following its path from the dusk until dawn and rotates its stem to receive it as much as possible during the day (a phenomenon called heliotropism). In Germanic languages its name is “sunflower”, both for the characteristic just described, and for the bright yellow color of its petals.
The plant is 60 cm to a few meters high, according to its variety, and the type of sunflower seeds a rather valuable oil can be made for human consumption, whilst by peeling them and by adding some salt you will have a tasty snack, very popular in China, USA and Europe.
Otherwise, the seeds are toasted or used raw to enrich the diet with flavors and vitamins, used in cakes, salads or baked goods. Sunflower germinates easily and it is common to see it grown in a pot on some balcony or used in science experiments in school.
Rich of polyunsaturated acids, beneficial for the cardiovascular system and to keep the right levels of cholesterol in the blood, sunflower seed oil if processed properly is used also as biodiesel fuel; In cosmetics it is used for its emollient capacity and it is ideal in the kitchen to fry, due to its high smoke point - the one in which an oil starts to burn.
History, curiosity and usages of sunflower seeds
Cultivated in North-America already around the year 1000 b.C, it arrived in Europe brought by the Spaniards in the XVI century and since then the cultivation of the plant (which can sprout spontaneously in almost every part of Italy) for the consumption of sunflower seeds has never stopped. Van Gogh loved especially the vitality and light that these flowers reflect, including them in his still lives, while in two successive different series he made them the main subject of some of its paintings.
Leftovers from squeezing of sunflower seeds are also suitable for feeding livestock, and countries such as Ukraine and the central states of the USA are known for their endless sunflower fields. Moreover, the properties of latex emitted by the plant are studied to create hypoallergenic rubber and some types of sunflower oil have been developed with a particularly high content of oleic acid, which makes it valuable and also characterised olive oil.
Naturally, they are well liked by rabbits and small pet rodents, but these seeds can, first of all, be used as an addition to flavor a mixed salad, or to flavor pasta or a meat dish. In appearance and size, the shell (with dark stripes) reminds us of the one in which pine nuts are in, but these seeds are rich in tocopherol, or vitamin A.
First of all it is essential to value how much height you can afford, and pick the seed of sunflower based on the type of possible cultivation: it wouldn’t be very wise to sow the giant variety, or even the common one (which on average reaches 2 meters in height) in a pot, albeit large, to keep on a balcony.
In that case it is better to opt for hybrids created to stay smaller; likewise, since this plant needs a lot of light and high temperatures, as well as requiring (preferably) an acid soil, it is best to decide for sunflower only if it is possible to sow in in full sunlight and amend the soil to reach a pH between 6 and 7. In any case, it would be best not to plant it in fields with strong winds.
The sowing is done between april and may, when temperature are mild there are already around 15/20°; the soil (or loam, if sown in a pot) must be quite light and easily permeable, because the plant is affected by water stagnation and excessive humidity. For the sowing in a pretty large vegetable garden, the seeds must be placed 30/45 centimeters distance between them, with 70 centimeters in between rows; above it a thin layer of mineral fertilizers is placed, the soil to cover everything and finally watered without exceeding. The soil should be always kept humid with daily watering, avoiding to water it too much.
The seedling should sprout in 2 or 3 weeks and - if necessary - you can decide to tie it to a bamboo stake.