Sunflower 1 (2002)
More than you want to know -- from the National Sunflower Association:
Sunflower was a common crop among American Indian tribes throughout North America. Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn.
Sunflower was used in many ways throughout the various Indian tribes. Seed was ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mush or bread. Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. The seed was also cracked and eaten for a snack. There are references of squeezing the oil from the seed and using the oil in making bread.
Non-food uses include purple dye for textiles, body painting and other decorations. Parts of the plant were used medicinally ranging from snakebite to other body ointments. The oil of the seed was used on the skin and hair. The dried stalk was used as a building material. The plant and the seeds were widely used in ceremonies.
This exotic North American plant was taken to Europe by Spanish explorers some time around 1500. The plant became widespread throughout present-day Western Europe mainly as an ornamental, but some medicinal uses were developed. By 1716, an English patent was granted for squeezing oil from sunflower seed.
Sunflower became very popular as a cultivated plant in the 18th century. Most of the credit is given to Peter the Great. The plant was initially used as an ornamental, but by 1769 literature mentions sunflower cultivated by oil production. By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil was done on a commercial scale. The Russian Orthodox Church increased its popularity by forbidding most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. However, sunflower was not on the prohibited list and therefore gained in immediate popularity as a food.
By the early 19th century, Russian farmers were growing over 2 million acres of sunflower. During that time, two specific types had been identified: oil-type for oil production and a large variety for direct human consumption. Government research programs were implemented. V. S. Pustovoit developed a very successful breeding program at Krasnodar. Oil contents and yields were increased significantly. Today, the world's most prestigious sunflower scientific award is known as The Pustovoit Award.
Are you feeling a little heliotropic on cloudy winter days or when trapped and slouched in your Seattle apartment? Then turn your head on its stalk to this light from
the thousand monkeys typing at Wikipedia:
Most flowerheads on a field of blooming sunflowers are turned towards the east, where the sun rises each morning. Immature sunflowers in the bud stage exhibit heliotropism; on sunny days the bud tracks the sun on its journey along the sky from east to west, while at night or at dawn it returns to its eastward orientation. The motion is performed by motor cells in the pulvinus, a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. The stem stiffens at the end of the bud stage, and when the blooming stage is reached the stem freezes in its eastward direction. Thus, blooming sunflowers are not heliotropic anymore, even though most flowerheads are facing the direction where the sun rises.
The inflorescence of the wild sunflower seen on roadsides does not turn toward the sun. In this sunflower, the flowering heads face many directions when mature. But the leaves exhibit some heliotropism.
Finally, sunflowers are seen as a potential new source for fighting HIV. From altpenis.com:
Scientists at the University of Bonn believe that sunflowers can produce a substance which prevents HIV from reproducing, at least in cell cultures. The substance is Dicaffeoyl quinic acid (DCQA), which has already been separately identified by other researchers as a possible foundation for a new group of powerful AIDS drugs. One of the stumbling blocks in developing these new drugs, however, is the astronomical cost of DCQA -- over US$1 million per gram (around US $30 million per once). The researchers in Bonn believe that their discovery of sunflower derived DCQA could slash the costs of the substance.
The researcher who discovered the potential new source of DCQA is agricultural engineer Claudio Cerboncini. Cerboncini found that some sunflowers can fight off a destructive mold called white stem rot by producing antibodies which stop the fungus. He isolated these antibodies and found that one of the components was DCQA.
DCQA was previously obtained from the artichoke and wild chicory, but only in extremely small doses, hence the high cost. "We want to attempt to cultivate sunflower cells or other plant cells in a nutrient solution together with the mold and then obtain the enzyme from the liquid," explained co-researcher Ralf Theisen. "If things go according to plan, we could produce DCQA at a substantially reduced cost."
Cerboncini added that DCQA is one of the few substances known today which inhibit viral integrase -- an enzyme which is essential for HIV to reproduce. "In contrast to other enzymes, medical experts expect there to be only a few side-effects from such integrase inhibitors. In the pharmaceuticals industry they are therefore seen as the great white hope for a completely new class of AIDS drugs. Initial clinical tests seem to confirm DCQA's potential," he said.
Will you ever again be so blasé about spitting your shells at the ballpark?
And, now, feel free to turn your head toward the light of another blog...