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.