The following article is from Dave’s Garden, a fabulous website full of great horticulture information and more!

The History and Uses of Sunflowers

By Melody Rose
January 28, 2017
The humble sunflower has been a part of mankind’s existence for thousands of years.

The Incas and Aztecs worshiped sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and believed that spirits of the dead were attracted to them because they reminded those spirits of the sun.

Sunflowers are native to the Americas and have not only been a part of legends and lore, they have nourished us and healed us for centuries. Evidence shows that they have been cultivated by man for about 5,000 years, making them a rival for corn as one of the earliest crops that ancient hunter-gatherers decided to settle down and grow. In fact, there should actually be a ‘fourth sister’ counted with the sacred Three Sisters of corn, beans and squash since sunflowers contributed so much to early man’s survival. They ate the young, unopened flower buds as a vegetable and the seeds were pressed for their rich oil.
The Spanish carried them back across the Atlantic and improved upon their qualities with selective breeding to create hybrids with larger heads and better harvests.

However, it was the Russians that embraced the humble sunflower and made it what it is today. Peter the Great was so enraptured by the sunflower during a visit to western Europe in the 1700’s that he brought seeds back with him and proceeded to instruct farmers to grow them. They really didn’t catch on until it was discovered that the edible oil the seeds produced was not on the list of fats and oils that the Orthodox Church banned for Lent. That discovery was a game changer and the Russians embraced the sunflower with enthusiasm. Even today, some of the largest and most productive sunflowers are Russian bred with the most popular variety, ‘Mammoth Russian’ known by millions around the world.

Sunflowers have some other interesting properties other than an oil source. The stems, leaves and roots produce a lovely, light green to yellow natural dye while the dark colored seed hulls give us reds, purples, grays and blacks. Mordant sunflowers with vinegar.

Folk medicine utilized sunflowers as a treatment for ailments from snakebites to rheumatism.
These plants also have a unique characteristic of being able to clear toxic elements from the soil. Sunflowers planted near industrial areas draw arsenic and lead from the ground and they were even planted around the Chernobyl disaster to help remove radioactive compounds from the fields. They are also used to reclaim boggy or marshy areas because of their ability to take up great amounts of water.
Today, sunflowers are an important agricultural crop with millions of acres devoted to seed and oil production. Sunflower oil is low in polyunsaturated fats making it a heart-healthy choice for people on restricted diets. The seeds are a wholesome snack consumed by millions and of course anyone who has ever filled a bird feeder knows what wildlife thinks about them. They also make up commercial feeds for poultry and livestock, providing much needed fats and nutrients to maintain healthy flocks and herds.

Mammoth Russian Sunflower. Find seeds in The Herb Cottage seed section.

Gardeners love sunflowers for their cheerful blooms that make excellent cut flowers and there are varieties that range from knee-high midgets to back of the border monsters. Plant sunflower seeds after all chances of frost are over, in full sun. They do best in well-drained soil rich in organic matter with regular water. Some of the tallest varieties (and they can reach well over 12 feet) might need protection or staking to keep them upright when high winds threaten, but they are mostly care-free. If you want to try sunflowers as a vegetable, pick the young buds before they open and steam much like artichokes. Let the spent heads dry on the stalks to save them for winter wildlife treats.
Sunflowers are easy to grow and seeds are quite inexpensive for gardeners on a budget. Even small children and the disabled can be successful sunflower gardeners. (a sunflower was the very first plant I ever grew from seed before I ever started school) They make a great garden plant for both school kids and nursing homes. The sunflower has a rich and colorful history and from the looks of things they should be popular for another 5,000 years.
About Melody Rose

I come from a long line of Kentuckians who love the Good Earth. I love to learn about every living thing, and love to share what I’ve learned. Photography is one of my passions, and all of the images in my articles are my own, except where credited.

Here is the original article on Dave’s Garden.

What to do with your herbs?

The infographic below is from the blog, an informative site with lots of easy to read information about herbs and gardening. 

Here’s what Chris McLaughlin has to say:

“When beginner gardeners ask me which plants are hardy and forgiving, my answer is always herbs. If a busy gardener asks me which plants will thrive in near-neglect, my answer is herbs. When a foodie gardener asks about fast-growing plants that will feed both people and bees, my answer is herbs

Herbs are the answer to many gardening questions for good reason: they’re an incredibly versatile and prolific group – almost to a fault. In fact, many herbs can be compared to cucumber plants. By the end of the summer, they’re being given away by the bushel because no one is sure what to do with them past some basic dishes. This doesn’t have to be the case for your abundant herb garden this year. We’ve got better ideas.”

Source: Blog

Tips for Germinating Seed

Growing your own plants from seed is so rewarding.

Bachelor Buttons
Bachelor Buttons- easy to grow spring annuals. Plant in the fall!

Planting seeds and watching for them to germinate is one of my favorite aspects of having a plant business. I grow most of my own plants from seed or cuttings. I buy a few small starts in from other growers, but mostly I start all my own stock.

I sell seeds from Botanical Interests for several reasons. One is their seed packs have beautiful artwork depicting the mature plant. Two is their prices are very reasonable. And, three, is they have fabulous Customer Service. Also, they are into seeds and gardening!! They clearly love their business and the seeds they sell to us.

There is lots of support for us sellers on their website, so I’m sharing the information about successful seed germination, below.

Many people I talk to at markets tell me they don’t grow from seed because they’ve never been successful or it takes too long. Well, I can’t argue with the time factor. Growing plants from seed is not for those who thrive on instant gratification. BUT, growing from seed has many rewards.

Personal satisfaction has got to be on the top of the list. Self sufficiency is a close second, especially if you’ve saved the seeds yourself from a previous crop or gotten seeds from another gardener. I have trees in my yard I started from seed! I am more connected to those trees because I started them myself from a small seed.

So! Gather up a few seed packs and try your hand at seed starting. It’s not really that difficult. Yes, there are some particular requirements, but many seeds germinate easily. One thing to remember, though, fresh seed germinates best. So, if you have seed packets hanging around that are over 3 years old, your rate of germination will be very low… and disappointing. Spend a little $$ and get some new seed to assure you have good results.

Most of the varieties in The Herb Cottage seed collection are easy to grow, whether you are looking for herbs, vegetables or flowers. I only charge $2.00 for postage no matter what size or order. So! Let’s get growing this Fall!

 Getting the Best Germination 

Botanical Interests assures that you are getting the highest quality seed in every packet. We buy from reputable suppliers, pre-test all of our seed by an independent laboratory before packing, and only accept seeds that exceed USDA standards. Some seeds are easier to grow than others. It is important to follow all planting recommendations on the back and inside of the packet. Below are some tips to ensure you get the best germination of your Botanical Interests seeds.

Keep moisture consistent – Keep soil damp, and cover with clear plastic or a clear tray until seedlings appear. After the seeds are sown and begin to absorb water, even a short dry period can be detrimental.

Sow at the correct depth – The seed depth measurement listed on the back of the packet is really important! Some seeds need a generous 1″ of soil covering them in order to germinate. Others shouldn’t be covered at all and should only be lightly pressed into the soil. For these, light must reach them to spark germination. It’s also possible to plant too shallow. Some seeds germinate best when they are well covered and in darkness. Generally, the smaller the seed, the more shallow it must be planted.

Prevent pathogens – Every gardener will eventually be hit with ‘damping-off’ fungus. Seeds will rot in the soil and not germinate, or they will sprout thin, spindly stems, then simply fall over and die. This disease can spread rapidly and wipe out an entire flat in a short time. The first step in preventing this unfortunate situation is to use clean pots and trays for planting. If you are re-using containers, be sure to wash them well, then sanitize with a 10% bleach solution (9 parts water, 1 part bleach). Never use garden soil from your yard to start seeds indoors. It will likely contain fungal spores. The best option is sterile seed starting mix from your local garden center.

If you mix your own, some gardeners like to sterilize their soil in the oven at 180-200 degrees F for 30 minutes to kill off any of the fungus. If you try this, be sure to put soil in a shallow flat or pot, no deeper than 4″ and keep covered tightly with aluminum foil while baking. Use a baking thermometer to gauge when soil reaches 180 degrees F, and do not over-bake. NOTE: I have never done this! But, I use new potting medium to start my seeds. 

After sowing seeds, be careful to keep your soil moist but not soggy. If possible, water from below by pouring water into the liner tray or use a flat with a wicking mat. 

Indoors, air circulation is also an important tool in preventing fungus. Place a small fan near your flat and keep it blowing on “low” during the day. Point it near the flat, but not blowing directly on it where it could dry out the soil quickly. Finally, if you have sown a lot of seeds in a small amount of space, be “brutal” and thin out the seedlings when too many germinate. Closely-packed, tiny stems provide the perfect environment for fungal growth.

Light Requirements – Indoors, be sure to keep your fluorescent grow lights on for at least 16 hours a day. This is important as artificial light is not as strong as sunlight, and some seeds need good light exposure to germinate. Conversely, some seeds will only sprout in darkness (as noted on packet). Be sure to cover them to the recommended depth, and turn your grow light on as soon as you see seedlings.

Temperature – Indoors, if your trays are close to a window, be sure to monitor them so they don’t bake in the heat and dry out, or get too cool. Some seeds require a specific temperature range for germination to occur. For example, pepper and tomatoes, although easy to grow in most settings, will do better with a heat mat underneath until they sprout. Conversely, sweet peas will germinate better in a cooler room that is only 55-65 degrees F.

Hard Seed Coat – Some seeds have hard seed coats and require “scarification” for germination to occur(i.e. sweet peas and morning glories). In nature, their hard seed coat helps to keep them viable longer. The fluctuating weather conditions of winter and early spring help to break down this coat naturally. There are two easy methods of playing Mother Nature and “scarifying” them yourself. You can soak them for 24 hours or nick them with a file before sowing to weaken the seed coat. See packet instructions for varieties requiring this extra step.

Stratification for Perennials – Some perennial seeds specifically require the fluctuating winter conditions of cold and moisture to germinate. You can often “trick” them into believing that they have gone through a winter by sowing them in pots with moist soil and placing them in the refrigerator for a few weeks. You may also have good luck by sowing them directly in the ground in the fall, so they can go through natural winter conditions outside. To do this, scatter them on the ground in the place you want them to grow. Follow recommended planting depth and then tamp them in firmly. An occasional watering in that area throughout the winter may be beneficial in dry climates. You may also try sowing them in containers outdoors. Even in cold climates, this can be quite effective. Try using large plastic pots filled with potting soil. Sow your seeds as noted on the packet, then cover with plastic and put them in a protected location. About once a month or more frequently during warmer periods of winter, give them a sprinkle with a watering can. Come spring, you may have a head start on your garden containers!

Sowing Annual Flower Seeds in the Fall

Cosmos, Bright Lights
Cosmos, Bright Lights

Fall is a great time to sow seeds directly in the garden or even a large container. These seeds will be ready to germinate when the temperature and moisture level of the soil is right for each type of seed. Both annuals- those one-season, brightly colored flowers that I love because they then reseed, and perennials- those flowers that grow all season and flower for several weeks at a time- can be planted in the Fall.

Texas Bluebonnets
Texas Bluebonnets

Timing is the key to successful Fall seed sowing. That and remembering that you planted seeds in a spot and don’t go digging around planting something else there!

Follow the directions on the seed packet for how deep to sow. I always sow thickly in the fall so I have a nice full garden later on!


Here are some tips from my seed supplier, Botanical Interests, to help you get started:

Start planning next season now!

Fall-sown annuals will emerge as soon as Mother Nature cooperates, allowing plants to grow larger more quickly and bloom earlier than spring-sown annuals.

If you live in an area with frost and snow, sow the seeds after a killing freeze but before snow (late October, early November in most areas) or you can also sow in late winter between snows. The snow helps bury seeds and insulates them, helping to retain the seeds’ moisture.

Sweet Peas
Sweet Peas

In southern states and other mild winter areas, you can sow in late September for winter bloom. Adding a little sand to the seeds not only helps space seeds more evenly, but also gives you a better visual aid of where you sowed in case you need to water over a dry winter. Don’t forget to mark what and where you sowed with stakes so you don’t accidentally weed out emerging flowers!

And, remember, Botanical Interests seed packets have pictures of the seedlings along with lots of other information on the inside of the package!

So… what can you sow now? Here’s a short list:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Cosmos
  • Flax
  • Hyacinth Bean
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Poppies
  • Sweet Peas
  • Texas Bluebonnets
  • Zinnias

You can find the seeds above at the seed pages here on The Herb Cottage Website. 

Do yourself a big favor and make some time this fall to sow some flower seeds. It’ll save you time, money and work next spring. Growing annuals from seeds is so easy and rewarding. 

And, for successive years… many of the varieties I’ve mentioned will reseed. Just don’t deadhead them until the flower heads have dried. Then, deadhead the spent blooms and distribute the seeds where you want the flowers to grow. OR, put the seeds in an envelope, label them and save then until the fall. Keep the seeds dry and cool. A frost-free refrigerator is perfect!


A Seedy Tutorial- Growing from seed

Originally Published December 2004

Cold weather and gloomy skies have come to my part of Texas. We’re experiencing the most rainfall in a year than we’ve had in some time. In one way, it’s good because my outdoor watering chores are kept to a minimum. And, since it’s been cloudy a good bit of the time, even the pots in the greenhouse are slow to dry out. In another way, though, the over-abundant rain has caused problems. Around several parts of Texas there has been flooding, causing people to evacuate their homes, and the fields are very wet… too wet to plow and plant with winter crops.

This time of year I turn my focus to planning and planting for spring. Like many of you, I look at the catalogs that come in the mail, dreaming about next year’s crops of flowers, herbs and vegetables. I look for new items that I think would be attractive to my customers or items that compliment the collections I already offer. One thing I’ve noticed is more and more seed companies are offering seedlings for sale of their, presumably, best sellers. I guess they’ve figured out that many people prefer already grown plants to starting their own seeds. After all, I’m in the plant business, too, because I saw a market for plants. I am offering more seeds this year, however, for those of you who would like to grow your own herbs, vegetables and flowers from seed.

Some varieties of plants really do better from seed in your own garden than started plants. One that comes to mind is the sweet pea. Here in the southern U.S., we plant sweet peas in fall or winter and they grow and then bloom in early to mid spring. Those of you in the more northern reaches of the U.S., will plant them as soon as possible after the last frost. The old varieties of sweet peas are grown not only for their lovely flower colors, but also for their spicy or sweet fragrance. I love them in a vase perfuming the house. Continue reading “A Seedy Tutorial- Growing from seed”