Other names: sunflower
Medicinal Actions: hypotensive, immune stimulating, anti-inflammatory
Qualities: nutritive, soothing, cooling
Affinities: skin, kidneys
Safety issues: none reported
This iconic plant is well-recognised throughout the western world. Native to the Americas, it belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae), which means its flower heads are actually composed of many tiny 'florets'. In the case of the sunflower, there are many central florets that have small tubular petals, with ray florets surrounding the outer rim of the flower head, producing the strap-like ligules that give the sunflower its distinctive sun-like appearance.
The leaves of the sunflower are opposite, meaning they grow in 2s from either side of the main stem. Their margins are toothed or 'dentate'. Sunflowers are known to be a source of the constituent quercetin, which has become known recently as an antioxidant. The seeds are also a source of potassium, iron and vitamins E, C and B5.
The sunflower, or Helianthus annuus, is not really used as an internal medicine by herbalists. However, its ingestion has been linked to lower blood pressure and its seeds are probably a useful addition to a diet, given the nutritional value. The presence of fatty acids in the oil, however, makes it useful for making creams and soaps. It's also useful to make extracts from other medicinal herbs to apply on the skin, for example St. John's Wort.