During my time spent on my summer aromatherapy study trip to France, we often drove by large fields of sunflowers, their heads bobbing gently in the breeze and all, very eerily, facing towards the sun (hence their English name)!. Although the focus is usually on the different types of essential oils that we use in therapeutic aromatherapy practice, the carrier oils that we use are just as important too. Sunflowers are prevalent in the south of France, so today I thought I would take a closer look at sunflowers and how they are used in aromatherapy practice.
The Sunflower in Botany
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) 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.
The 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 worshiped 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 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 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.
The 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 Aromatherapie Foundation Course in Aromatherapy; you can also learn more about other carrier oils in the Sedona Aromatherapie Basic Butters, Balms, Creams and Lotions Course.
For information on all Sedona Aromatherapie courses, visit the Sedona Aromatherapie courses home page.
Hutchens, Alma R. 1973 Indian Herbalogy of North America USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Price, Len 1999 Carrier Oils For Aromatherapy and Massage UK: Riverhead