The Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) which is so popular and brilliant an ornament of cottage gardens throughout England in summer and autumn, is an importation of long standing, and has been called the Marigold of Peru.
Its general nature and appearance are so well known as scarcely to need any description. The plant is of the Composite order, indigenous to tropical America, but flourishing well in this country, whilst bearing the name of Heli-anthus (Sunflower), and smelling of turpentine when the disc of the flower is broken across.
The growing herb is highly useful for drying damp soils, because of its remarkable power of absorbing water; for which reason several acres of Sunflowers are now planted in the Thames Valley. Swampy districts in Holland have been made habitable by an extensive culture of the Sunflower, the malarial miasmata being absorbed and nullified, whilst pure oxygen is emitted abundantly.
An old rhyme declares, for some unknown reason:
"The full Sunflower blew
And became a starre of Bartholomew."
The name Sunflower has been given as most persons think because the flowers follow the sun by day turning always towards its shining face. But Gerard says, about this alleged fact, he never could observe it to happen, though he spared no pains to observe the matter; he rather thought the flower to have got its title because resembling the radiant beams of the sun. Likewise, some have called it Corona Solis, and Sol Indianus, the Indian Sunne-floure: by others it is termed
Chrysanthemum Peruvianum. In Peru this flower was much reverenced because of its resemblance to the radiant sun, which luminary was worshipped there. In their Temples of the Sun the priestesses were crowned with Sunflowers, and wore them in their bosoms, and carried them in their hands. The early Spanish invaders found in these temples numerous representations of the Sunflower wrought in pure virgin gold, the workmanship of which was so exquisite that it far out-valued the
precious metal whereof they were made. Some country folk call it "Lady eleven o'clock."
If the buds of the Sunflower before expanding be boiled, and eaten with butter, vinegar and pepper, after the manner of serving the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are exceeding pleasant meat, surpassing the artichoke moreover in provoking the desiderium veneris. The Chinese make their finest yellow dye from the Sunflower, which they worship because resembling the sun.
All parts of the plant contain much carbonate of potash; and the fruit, or seed, furnishes a fixed oil in abundance. The kernels of the seeds contain helianthic acid, and the pith of the plant will yield nine per cent. of carbonate of potash. The oil of the Sunflower may be used as olive oil, and the cake after expressing away this oil makes a good food for cattle. A medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared from the seed with rectified spirit of wine; also from the fresh juice
with diluted spirit. Each of these serves admirably against intermittent fever and ague, instead of quinine. The Sunflower is adored by the Chinese as the most useful of all vegetables. From its seeds the best oil is extracted, and an excellent soap is made. This oil burns longer than any other vegetable oil, and Sunflower cake is more fattening to cattle than linseed cake.
The flowers furnish capital food for bees, and the leaves are of use for blending with tobacco. The stalk yields a fine fiber employed in weaving Chinese silk, and Evelyn tells of "The large Sunflower, ere it comes to expand and show its golden face, being dressed as an artichoke, and eaten as a dainty."
The plant is closely allied in its species to the Globe Artichoke, and the Jerusalom Artichoke (girasole), so named from turning vers le soleil, or au soleil, this being corrupted to "Jerusalem," and its soup by further perversion to "Palestine" soup. The original Moorish name was Archichocke, or Earththorn.
The Globe Artichoke (Cinara maxima anglicana) of our kitchen gardens, when boiled and brought to table, has a middle pulp which is eaten as well as the soft delicate pulp at the base of each prickly floret. "This middle pulp," says Gerard, "when boiled with the broth of fat flesh, and with pepper added, makes a dainty dish being pleasant to the taste, and accounted good to procure bodily desire. (It
stayeth the involuntary course of the natural seed)." Evelyn tells us: "This noble thistle brought from Italy was at first so rare in England that they were commonly sold for crowns apiece." Pliny says: "Carthage spent three thousand pounds sterling a year in them." The plant is named Cinara, from cinis, "ashes," because land should be manured with these. It contains phosphoric acid, and is, therefore, stimulating.
The leaves of the Globe Artichoke afford somewhat freely on expression a juice which is bitter, and acts as a brisk diuretic in many dropsies. Such a constituent in the plant was known to the Arabians for curdling milk.
The Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is of the Sunflower genus, having been brought at first from Brazil, and being now commonly cultivated in England for its edible tubers. These are red outside, and white within; they contain sugar, and albumen, with all aromatic volatile principle, and water. The tuber is the Topinambour, and Pois de terre of the French; having been brought
to Europe in 1617. It furnishes more sugar and less starch than the Potato.
In 1620 the Jerusalem Artichoke was quite common as a vegetable in London: though, says Parkinson, when first introduced, it was "a dainty for a queen." Formerly, it was baked in pies with beef marrow, dates, ginger, raisins, and sack.
The juice pressed out before the plant blossoms was used by the ancients for restoring the hair of the head, even when the person was quite bald.
The Sunflower has been from time immemorial a popular remedy for malarial fevers in Russia, Turkey, and Persia, being employed as a tincture made by steeping the stems and leaves in brandy. It is considered even preferable to quinine, sometimes succeeding when this has failed, and being free from any of the inconveniences which often arise from giving large doses of the drug: whilst the pleasant taste of the plant is of no small advantage in the case of children.
Cases in which both quinine and arsenic proved useless have been completely cured by the tincture of Sunflower in a week or ten days.
Golden Sunflowers are introduced at Rheims into the stained glass of an Apse window in the church of St. Remi, with the Virgin and St. John on either side of the Cross, the head of each being encircled with an aureole having a Sunflower inserted in its outer circle. The flowers are turned towards the Savior on the Cross as towards their true Sun.
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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