An Introduction to Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

introduction to sunflower

An article about an introduction to sunflower. By professional aromatherapist and author Sharon Falsetto.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is perhaps one of the most garden annual flowers worldwide. Sunflowers are easy to grow, provide nourishment as seeds, beauty and oil, and are a hard worker in the garden. Here’s a quick introduction to sunflower!

An Introduction to Sunflower in Botany

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is a member of the Asteraceae plant family, a plant family which is noted for large, bright flowers. The sunflower is botanically related to chrysanthemum, gerbera, calendula and dahlia. Sunflowers are an annual plant and are easily identifiable by a large, bright yellow flower head (actually a collection of many small flowers clustered together).  They grow to a height of up to 15 feet and the flower head of a sunflower can reach 15 inches in width. In order to grow well, sunflowers need a lot of sun, hence their English name of sunflower.

An Introduction to Sunflower in History

The Latin name for sunflower is derived from the Greek word helios, meaning sun, and anthos, meaning flower; the second part of the Latin name for sunflower, annuus, means yearly.

The sunflower is actually indigenous to South America. It is believed that many ancient cultures used the sunflower for its therapeutic properties and in culinary practice. The Aztec and the Inca cultures believed that the sunflower represented the sun and therefore worshipped the sunflower accordingly.

The sunflower was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century and from Spain the sunflower spread to Russia; today the sunflower is a common sight across the world and is cultivated in France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Russia, Argentina, India and Eastern Europe.

The Sunflower in Traditional Use

Sunflower seeds were a great food source for ancient South American cultures and were sometimes toasted. The Native American Indians used the root of the sunflower in an infusion to treat snake bites; they used sunflower oil (extracted from the sunflower head) as a hair conditioner. In traditional Russian remedies, the head of the sunflower and sunflower leaves were used to treat conditions such as bronchitis and rheumatism.

The Sunflower as a Food

Both the seeds and the oil of the sunflower are used in food preparations; sunflower oil is used in salads and as a frying oil (not to be confused with cold-pressed sunflower oil used for therapeutic aromatherapy purposes). Sunflower seeds are a good source of nutrition and are high in vitamin D, vitamin B, niacin, and protein.

An Introduction to Sunflower in Aromatherapy

Sunflower oil is used in therapeutic aromatherapy practice and is extracted from the seeds of the plant.  According to Len Price, in Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, the seeds contain approximately 30% of oil. Some of the therapeutic uses for sunflower oil include treatment of skin conditions, sinusitis, hemorrhoids and leg ulcers.

You can also combine sunflower oil with other carrier oils for a greater synergistic effect. Sunflower oil is moisturizing and is often used as a base carrier oil in aromatherapy blends; sunflower oil also contains vitamin A, vitamin D and other valuable minerals such as calcium and iron.

Learn More About Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy

Sunflower is one of the carrier oils which is studied on the Sedona Aromatics Certificate in Holistic Aromatherapy. A one-hour e-class on sunflower is included in the Sedona Aromatics Botanical Aromatherapy™ Membership School, and for sale as separate e-class in our store.


·         Hutchens, Alma R. 1973 Indian Herbalogy of North America USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

·         Price, Len 1999 Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage UK: Riverhead

About the Author:

The author of this article has been working in the health care industry since the 1990’s and in the aromatherapy industry since the 2000’s. She is UK-certified aromatherapist and a NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist®. She is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, custom blend formulator and herbal studies student. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. She has taken the online Master Gardener short course series with the University of Oregon. Sharon works from her garden studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she gardens and distills plants from her own aromatic gardens, surrounded by natural fauna and flora on an original pioneer homestead property.

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