As usual, we humans could learn a thing or two from our wild friends. One ounce of raw, hulled sunflower seeds (the way the birds eat ‘em) supplies about 20 percent of your daily fat needs, 10 percent of your fiber requirement, 2 percent of your carbohydrates and 6 grams of protein. Low in sodium and practically devoid of cholesterol, that same handful of seeds is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, selenium and vitamins B1, B6 and E. Linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that helps maintain your cell membranes and serves as a precursor for prostaglandins, is the primary lipid found in sunflower seed oil.
Beyond its nutritional benefits, your average sunflower seed is mildly anti-inflammatory, a property Dr. James Duke attributes to its methionine content. Methionine is an essential amino acid your body uses to manufacture S-adenosylmethionine, among other things. SAM is purported to be as effective as some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, for controlling inflammation. Many of the terpenoid compounds in the sunflower’s aerial parts have also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Eclectic physicians used sunflower seed oil to treat dysentery, cough, psoriasis and bladder and kidney disorders. The stem’s pith was used to relieve fever and inflammation and was a reasonably effective diuretic. Native Americans used a tincture of sunflowers to treat lung diseases and chest pains; sunflower leaf tea was used for fever, and tinctures or decoctions of the roots were used for rheumatism. Chewed or poulticed leaves were applied to cuts, stings, sores, sprains and insect and snake bites.
Sunflowers are members of the Compositae family, which includes dandelions, coneflowers, daisies, asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias. If you are allergic to other members of this extensive family, use sunflowers with caution. Otherwise, toss back a handful of seeds and turn your face to the sun.
- The Green Pharmacy. James A. Duke, Ph.D. St. Martin’s Press. 1997
- Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, 2nd Edition: Sunflower. Thomas Fleming, Ph.D., Chief Editor. 2000
- Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Common Sunflower. Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2002