Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus but sometimes labeled Helianthus giganteus, are one of those flowers that make you feel better just by looking at them, but despite this, they are not often thought of as remedial plants.
Sunflowers are semi-hardy annuals. They won’t survive frost, but since they will almost certainly have done their thing by the time this occurs, it doesn’t really matter in most years. There are numerous varieties available from any seed merchant, some growing to a height of 12 feet (4 meters), although dwarf varieties have been bred which reach a mere 18″ (45cm). The idea of a dwarf sunflower seems to me to take most of the fun out of this plant, but I guess there must be a market for them somewhere.
Most gardeners just grow them and then pull them up and stick them on the compost heap after the flowers die off, but this is really not making the most of this amazing plant. For a start, birds love sunflower seeds, so if you can possibly bring yourself to allow them to ripen and leave them through the winter months, your green credentials will be improved immensely. The tall varieties need some support unless they are grown in a very sheltered spot, as otherwise they can get knocked down by the wind, which is a shame.
However, it is the leaves that are mainly used in herbal remedies. These are picked just before the flowers open, and can be used fresh or dried for later use. Use them crushed with a little hot water as a poultice to treat bites, sores and skin eruptions.You can also make a standard infusion of leaves – 3 handfuls of fresh or 1 ounce of dried to 570ml (1 UK pint, 1¼ US pints) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes and up to 4 hours before straining for use. This is used to treat disorders of the lung.
All plants used for herbal remedies must be grown organically, and this is particularly important in the case of sunflowers as their fast growth means that they absorb chemicals very readily and in large amounts. To find out more about growing organic sunflowers visit the Gardenzone.