Sunflowers have always been associated with bright and happy thoughts.
The scientific name of the sunflower is Helianthus. This name has been derived from two Greek words -- 'helios' which means the sun, and 'anthos', which means flower; hence, the name sunflower.This flower belongs to the Asteraceae family. Plants belonging to this group come with a unique characteristic -- an aggregate of two different types of flowers, namely ray and disk flowers, which look like a single blossom. Originally cultivated by Native Americans around 3000 B.C, the seeds from these flowers formed an important part of their daily food intake. The seeds were ground to make flour, mixed with beans, squash and corn to make a meal, pressed for oil and cracked open for the kernels. Apart from the above, Native Americans also used sunflower seeds to produce a purple dye which was used for decoration, face and body painting and on cloth. Oil was made for both skin and hair care, and dried plant stalks were even used as building material. Spanish explorers have been credited with introducing Europe to these gorgeous flowers back in the 1500s.
It is said that the 18th century saw a huge rise in the production of sunflower oil and its subsequent use in cooking. The Russians loved this oil to such an extent that the 19th century saw more than 2 million acres of land dedicated to sunflowers alone! In the 1900s, the U.S. started growing sunflowers for commercial use. At first, it was used mainly for animal feed, with the seeds sent to Europe to meet their oil production requirements. It was during the 70s and 80s that sunflower oil started gaining popularity as a cooking medium in the U.S.
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