The Strange Apothecary

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Each Thursday we take a look at the magical properties of different herbs & how we can use them to enhance our lives. Today we are going to be looking at the magical properties of Sunflowers.

Zodiac: Leo

Solar system: Sun

Element: Fire

Gender: Masculine

Powers: Luck, Protection, Confidence, Sun magic, Fertility, Wishes, Fairy magic, Joy, Courage, Friendship, Prosperity, Happiness.

History of Sunflowers

Sunflowers, the most common of which is called Helianthus Annuus, are native to North America and belong to the Asteraceae family. There is evidence that sunflowers were being cultivated by American Indians, in what is now known as Arizona and New Mexico, as early as 3000BC. They were a common crop and are thought to have been domesticated before corn.

American Indian tribes used the seeds to make flour for bread and cakes. They also added this flour to other vegetables like beans, corn and squash. The seeds were commonly eaten as a snack and were also pressed to make oil. The oil was used to treat skin and hair and other parts of the plant were used to make dyes for textiles and body painting. The stalks of the sunflowers were dried and used as building materials.

It’s believed that Native American tribes cultivated the sunflower plant into the single-stemmed plant we commonly see today. In its original form, it was a much bushier plant with multiple flower heads.

In the 1500s, Spanish explorers brought sunflower seeds back to Europe. The flowers were cultivated widely but were mainly ornamental. By 1716, a patent was granted in England for a technique to extract the oil from the seeds.

Russia is credited with spreading the popularity of sunflowers, and much of this is down to Peter the Great who appears to have loved the plant. Texts from 1769 mention that sunflowers had moved from purely ornamental plants to being used to make oil. By the 1830s sunflower oil was being produced on a commercial scale. Part of the rise in popularity of sunflower oil was due to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church forbid the consumption of most oils during lent, however, sunflower oil wasn’t on this list which meant that it rose immensely in popularity.

By the early 1800s, over 2 million acres of sunflowers had been planted by Russian farmers. There were two different types of sunflowers being planted, with one type being used for oil production and the other being used to produce sunflower seeds for consumption.

By the late 1800s, Russian sunflower seeds found their way back to the US. Most likely, this came from Russian immigrants bringing seeds with them. The first commercial sunflower crops in the US were used as silage feed for poultry. The first commercial sunflower oil was produced in 1926 by the Missouri Sunflower Growers’ Association.

The Canadian Government started an official breeding program during the 1930s where they used seeds brought into Canada by Russian Immigrants. Canadians appreciated the oil so much that an increasing number of acres were planted with sunflower crops. By 1946 a small oil plant was built by Canadian farmers.

In 1964 the Government licensed a seed called “Peredovik” which had a high oil and seed yield. Throughout this time production in Canada and the US increased and by the 70s hybridized seeds had been produced which increased oil and seed production and the plant’s resistance to diseases.

During the late 1970s, increased demand for sunflower oil from Europe meant that crop acreage in the US exploded. Europeans had been using more and more sunflower oil as they learned that animal fats could negatively impact cholesterol. The Russian supplies of oil weren’t able to cope with the demand and Europeans started importing sunflower seeds from the US in order to crush them in local mills. This has changed today, with Europe producing most of its own sunflower seeds and the imports from the US being relatively minimal.

Today, the main producers of sunflower products in the world are again Russia and Ukraine. Combined they produce around ½ of the world’s sunflower seeds.

Fun Facts about Sunflowers

  • In Greek mythology, sunflowers came about because a young girl was madly in love with Apollo and followed his path through the sky every day. He eventually got sick of her constant pining and turned her into a sunflower by piercing her with one of his sun arrows. Other versions of this story suggest that another god felt sorry for her and turned her into a sunflower so as to stop her obsession. The myth suggests that because of this young girl, sunflowers still follow the path of the sun throughout the day facing east in the morning and west in the evening.
  • There is an award, known as The Pustovoit Award. It’s a prestigious award given for research into sunflowers.
  • One type of sunflower seed, Mammoth Russian, was sold in seed catalogues for more than 100 years in the US.
  • Sunflower crops are a huge market, ranking as the 4th most common crop in the world after palm, soybeans and rapeseed.
  • Aztec priestesses who worshipped the sun gods were crowned with sunflowers.
  • The tallest sunflower was 9.17m tall and the largest flower was 82cm across.
  • The Incas used sunflowers as part of their religious practices in Peru.
  • In Chinese medicine, sunflowers aren’t used at all.
  • A single sunflower can contain up to 2,000 seeds.


Sunflowers grow best in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. They like a bit of mulch. They should be planted directly in the ground after the last frost and need protection from squirrels and birds. A floating row cover is a good idea for the first few weeks until the plants are established. They will continue to grow all summer and bloom in late summer.

Harvesting & Storage

In late September, the petals will fall off of the sunflower head and the head will start to curl. When you peak into the head you will find that the seeds are visible and turning black. When this happens, cut the stem far enough from the head that you have a good handle. Then hang the head upside down in a well-ventilated area out of the sun until it is thoroughly dried out then shake and rub the seeds out into a bag.

Alternatively, put a mesh bag over the sunflower as it starts to ripen to protect it from the birds and let it ripen on the stem.

The seeds will keep longer in their shells. They will store up to a year in the freezer but will start to go bad after about 2 months. The oils begin to go rancid. Exposure to sunlight and heat will speed up the process so store them in a cool, dark spot to get the most out of them. You can roast them like pumpkin seeds in the oven, sprinkled with a little salt, or not.

Magical Uses

Embolden your courage.

The head of a sunflower bears a striking resemblance to a lion’s mane. Pull the strength card from a deck of tarot cards and place it at the base of a vase of sunflowers to renew your courage, dispel shyness or empower you to take bold steps towards uncertainty.

Bless a friendship.

Sunflowers symbolize longevity in friendship. Throw a piece of rose quartz in the bottom of a tall vase, fill it with sunflowers and give it to a friend with whom you hope to keep lifelong ties.

Brighten the sick room.

Chase out negative energy from a sick room with a large bouquet of sunflowers. With their richly solar vibes, they make a great spiritual “disinfectant” for someone worn weary by illness.

Evoke the God aspect.

The sun typically symbolizes the male aspect of the dual god/goddess archetype in neopaganism. Use sunflowers on the altar to represent the divine masculine in ritual.

Adorn a summer handfasting.

Sunflowers are associated with loyalty and lifelong relationships. If you’re planning a handfasting during the months of July or August, consider making the sunflower prominent in flower arrangements or wear one in your hair to bless your handfasting for strength and stability.


Sunflower oil makes a great massage oil for skin-to-skin healing rituals and treatments, especially with respect to grief and sadness. Gently warm on the stove and massage warm (not hot!) sunflower oil into the skin to ease the spiritual imbalances associated with loss, rejection or disappointment.

Use in fertility rites.

The abundance of the sunflower’s seed production makes it a premium ingredient in fertility rites. Include the seeds in mojo bags for fertility or keep a jar near the marital bed when trying to conceive.

Include them on your harvest table.

With Lammas, the first harvest festival on the Wheel of the Year, generally falling within the season of the sunflower, this gorgeous, showy flower makes a classic addition to the harvest table as a magical symbol of sun, abundance and familial warmth.

Make sunflowers into a flower crown.

The Aztec priestesses of sun temples made flower crowns from sunflower blooms and wore them during sacred rites. Makes a lovely crown for the high priestess of a Lammas ritual.

Anoint your heart centre.

Use sunflower oil to anoint your heart chakra to fill your heart with light and gladness. A perfect pick-me-up on a rainy day or to help you stay present during joyful occasions through personal distractions.

Household Use

Sunflower oil can be used to make homemade soap (though coconut oil is best)

Sunflowers can be used to extract toxins from the soil including lead, arsenic, and uranium. Simply plant them in the tainted area and don’t eat their seeds!

Healing Attributes

Sunflower oil can be used as a carrier oil for healing oils used in massages and ointments.

Culinary Use

Sunflower seeds make a great snack out of hand and are also delicious tossed on salads and baked into bread.

Sun butter can be used as a dip for carrots, celery, apples and bananas, as a spread and in anything you’d use peanut butter for.

Sunflower oil can be used in frying or as salad oil.

Use sun butter in place of peanut butter and you will soon find you prefer it. It’s also safe to eat in the presence of nut-allergic kids!

Read all of our other Herbsday posts here.

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