Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - How would you feel facing a field of bright yellow sunflowers? What if you could walk among 2 million sunflowers? If you are feeling depressed, worried, or stressed about the world today, this many sunflowers could surely make you feel better.
A farmer in Kenosha County Wisconsin felt this way. He wanted to do something to help people during the pandemic so he planted 22 acres of sunflowers, a field of sunshine, on his you-pick strawberry farm. Scott Thompson knew if he could help folks get out of their homes and come to the country, the fresh air, space for social distancing, and the faces of sunflowers would make them happy, at least for a while. (1)
What is it about sunflowers that help us feel good? The large round flowers, like their name, look like the sun. They follow the sun by turning their heads during the day. They almost have a smiley face looking back at us. They can provide energy in the form of nourishment and vibrance, attributes that mirror the sun, and the energy provided by its heat and light.
History of Sunflowers
In many cultures, sunflowers are a symbol of happiness and optimism. They represent longevity, love, vitality, and loyalty and have been used in ceremonies for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that the plant was originally cultivated by those living in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. It may have been domesticated as a food source even before corn.
Practical uses included a purple dye for textiles and body painting. Parts of the plant were used medicinally for snakebite. The oil of the seed was used on skin and hair. The dried stalk was used as a building material. (2,3)
Health Benefits of Sunflowers
Sunflower seeds are excellent sources of several nutrients, including antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium, and plant compounds that may help prevent chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. They are also known to:
• Aid in weight loss
• Help increase energy
• Improve skin health
• Lower cholesterol
According to online publication Healthline.com: "Unshelled sunflower seeds are a popular snack, while shelled varieties can be eaten by the handful or added to any number of foods, such as trail mix, salads, and baked goods." Eating only ¼ cup of seeds a day is enough to avoid excessive calorie intake and potentially high exposure to cadmium. (4)
Sunflower seed sprouts, called microgreens, are also a good source of nutrition. Be careful with your growing conditions. Though uncommon, bacterial contamination of sprouted seeds may cause sunflower seed allergies and intestinal blockages.
Numerous studies show that exchanging saturated fats, like those in butter, cheese, full-fat dairy, and coconut, for unsaturated fats like those found in sunflower oil, is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Use cold-pressed sunflower oil, which has a rich, nutty flavor, for salad dressings and other low-heat applications. (5)
Next time you are feeling down, buy some sunflowers. You will be happy you did.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a freelance writer and cultural photographer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sun4sandra(at)gmail.com.
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