The Three, No, Four Sisters
You may be familiar with the term “the Three Sisters,” staples of Native American gardens: Corn, Beans, Squash. In addition to these three staples in many of these prehistoric gardens there was a fourth “sister,” the Sunflower, Helianthus annuus. These bright yellow flowers were grown by ancient Americans for food, medicinal and religious uses.
Indigenous Americans would crush and grind the seeds, creating a type of flower used to make cakes and breads. Much as we use the seeds for snacks today, these prehistoric people would also simply eat the seeds. Medicinally the plant was used to treat sunstroke, as a snake bit remedy and for wart removal. Additionally the plant was also used to create yellow and purple dyes for body and pottery painting and for coloring textiles. In some ancient American cultures the sunflower was seen as a symbol of the sun god and used in their religious ceremonies.
The Spread to Europe
Spanish explorers returned to Europe with sunflower seeds in the 1500s. These bright yellow plants were first used in ornamental gardens in Madrid Spain around 1510. The spread into Europe continued as French and English explorers returned to the Old World with sunflower seeds. Over time the plant became a commercial crop, used for the production of vegetable oil and for a food source as well as an ornamental plant.
Today these flowers are still grown commercially for the production of oil and seeds for snacking. The seeds are also sold as wild bird feed. Further more the stalks can be used as silage for feeding livestock. Commercial sunflower production peaked in the 1970s with an estimated five million acres devoted to this plant. Today US farmers plant around 1.4 million acres for the production of oil and seed. Of course this flower is still popular for ornamental plantings.
The images below were made along NC Highway 58 near Cape Carteret, North Carolina. The field is located along the causeway leading to Emerald Isle. In the summer the flowers offer a cheery welcome to tourist visiting this popular sea side community.
Learn more about sunflowers by visiting https://www.uspictures.com/sunflower-power/
A Symbol of Summer – the Sunflower Click To Tweet