Thursday, September 6, 2012

happiness, strength, and love

 Sunflowers, or girasoli as they are called in Italian, are literally flowers that turn towards the sun, well in the bud stage that is.  As it flowers, a sunflower faces East.  This flower is native to the Americas and was introduced to Europe in the 16th century.  Thus leading to production of sunflower oil for culinary purposes.  But the sunflower’s history goes back far beyond this.  It is believed that many indigenous native American peoples, including the Aztecs and the Incas, saw the sunflower as a symbol of their solar deity.   Spiritually sunflowers represent happiness, strength and love.

For me, these mammoth flowers became companions I saw through this fine summer.  I started them from seeds and nurtured them as if they were my babies.  They sprouted early in the summer and offered amazing pillars of green strength.  
sunflower plants spring up

Getting real tall, still no flowers

The sunflowers quickly grew to be giants.  The summer continued on and our sunflowers continued to flourish.  Minor incidents, such as, strong summer storms with whirling winds or ant colonies interested in a new endeavor, kept us engaged with our flowers long beyond their seedling days as we nurtured their life experience. 

Such a gift, these sunflowers not only provided strength and color and life to us, they attracted bees and bugs in search of nature’s pollen.  As the flowers matured, so did the seeds them grew out of the head of the flower.  To my great pleasure, we can connect a mathematical model to our dear sunflower.  The flower is in the form of Fermat’s spiral and the mesh of spirals occurs in Fibonacci numbers.  

When the flowers reached heights of 15 feet and their own heaviness began to wear them down, we knew it was time to cut them down.  This was an undertaking, as the plants’ stalks had grown to the size of small trees.  We gently sawed them down and prepared the sunflower heads for drying.  Some recommendations suggest brown bagging the heads to dry.  I preferred leaving my heads out for several days to air dry before putting them upside down in a brown paper bag and tying closed for about 2 weeks.  When the seeds were dry, I harvested them right into my big metal bowl.  The flower is sappy and my hands got sticky and brown as I worked.

Once the seeds are harvested and dry it’s time to begin preparing them for a snack.  I boiled the seeds in a large pot of water with ¼ cup of coarse salt for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Then I strained and dried the seeds out before laying them on a large jelly roll sheet, which had been lightly oiled with olive oil.  I baked the seeds for 40 minutes and wah-la!  Oven roasted sunflower seeds that were cultivated in my backyard. 

Sunflower seeds: boiled, dried, oiled and roasted

Great news too…sunflower seeds are super packed with health benefits.  These seeds provide a significant amount of vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium.  Not to mention they’ll easily curb your hunger and occupy                               
your mouth.  Vitamin E is quite important for your health.  It is
a fat-soluble antioxidant that travels through the human body and neutralizes free radicals (that would otherwise cause damage to your cells.)  The magnesium helps to regulate nerve and muscle tone and selenium, which is a trace mineral, is suggested to lower incidence of cancer.  Delicious, satisfying, fun to eat and good for you!  Can’t beat that.

Visit the National Sunflower Association for a free downloadable sunflower coloring book!

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