Driftless Organics and the humble, versatile sunflower

Sunflower (closely)

Photo by Tomáš Obšívač [ToOb] via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

The current issue of Edible Madison features an interesting piece on sunflowers from Jessica Luhning (with photos by Jim Klousia and illustrations by Pete Hodapp). She offers a brief primer on the history of the plant. For example, she writes,

The sunflower is one highly versatile plant with the sunniest of dispositions.

Despite the plant’s many uses, it wasn’t cultivated in North America until much, much later, in the late 19th century. At some point, it was overlooked as a plant worthy of mass cultivation. But Spanish explorers were quick to realize its potential and shipped seed back to Europe around 1500, where it was traded and shared for nearly 200 years, largely grown as an ornamental until the late 1700s when the English started pressing the seed for oil.

The sunflower’s eastward journey continued to Russia, where finally in the late 18th century, the sunflower reached cultivation status for the commercial sale of its oil, largely thanks to Russia’s Peter the Great and the Orthodox Church. When the Orthodox Church forbade oilbased foods during Lent, sunflower oil rose to immediate culinary popularity as it was never recognized by the Orthodox Church as a Lent-prohibited food.

Luhning also focuses on the efforts of Driftless Organics to diversify their farm in southwest Wisconsin with the addition of sunflowers. It’s an informative read; find the full article here.

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