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 cou
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 fibre 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 Saviour on the Cross as
towards their true Sun.