The sunflower is native to the Central Americas. The evidence thus far is that it was first domesticated in Mesoamerica, present day Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. The earliest known examples of a fully domesticated sunflower north of Mexico have been found in Tennessee and date to around 2300 BC. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. Sunflower is an annual wildflower with a large and stout central stem about 3-9′ tall, although occasionally smaller. Toward the apex of the plant, there may be a few side stems, but it is tall and columnar overall. The central stem is light green to reddish green, terete, and covered with stiff spreading hairs. The large alternate leaves are up to 8″ long and 6″ across – they have a tendency to droop downward from the long petioles.
They are cordate, ovate-cordate, or ovate with fine dentate margins, although some of the small upper leaves may have smooth margins and a lanceolate shape. The upper surface of the leaves is dull green and covered with short stiff hairs, providing it with a sandpapery feel. The petioles are light green to reddish green, and covered with short stiff hairs; the upper surface of each petiole is channeled.
Sunflower leaves are phototropic; they turn slowly to follow the sun’s rays. This increases light interception, and it may also increase photosynthesis. Buds are also heliotropic, and on sunny days they turn from east to west, returning to an east-facing position at dawn. The motion is created by special cells in a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. The stem stiffens as the plant matures, and when it blooms, the stem freezes facing eastward.
Most people know the seeds of sunflowers are edible, as they are sold in snack form in stores all over the country. But you can also eat the flowers and roots of the plant. The seeds are rich in protein and iron, can be roasted for snacks. The seeds of the large-seeded varieties are also much liked by Russians and are sold in the street as are chestnuts in this country. Big bowls of Sunflower seeds are to be seen in the restaurants of railway stations, for people to eat. Roasted in the same manner as coffee, they make an agreeable drink, and the seeds have been used in Portugal and Russia to make wholesome and nutritious bread.
1 pt. fresh carrot juice
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Sriracha (Asian chili sauce) or 1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 teaspoon Asian (toasted) sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 large orange or yellow bell pepper
6 ounces sunflower sprouts (1 1/2 qts. lightly packed) or 5 oz. mixed baby lettuces (2 qts.)
1 1/2 cups lightly packed pea shoots or micro greens
1 1/2 cups lightly packed mild or spicy sprouts such as clover or radish
1/3 cup long, fine shreds of carrot, preferably shredded with a mandoline.
Make dressing: In a wide, 3- to 4-qt. saucepan, boil carrot juice over medium-high heat, stirring often, until reduced to 1/4 cup, 12 to 15 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let cool. Whisk in remaining dressing ingredients.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Toast sunflower seeds in a shallow pan until light golden, shaking pan occasionally, 4 to 8 minutes. Let cool.
Trim off membrane and curved ends of bell pepper. Cut pepper lengthwise into very thin slices. In a large bowl, use your hands to toss and separate all vegetables until evenly mixed. Pour seeds and dressing on top; mix gently. Season with salt to taste.