Summer's for sunflowers

Date posted: 15 December 2017

Is there a cheerier combo than sunflowers and summer time?

The beautiful yellow flowers are in bloom in and around Adelaide Botanic Garden's Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden right now, but they're more than just pretty faces.

“Sunflowers at Adelaide Botanic Garden

Music: 'Blue Highway' by Podington Bear [CC BY-NC]

What are they?

Helianthus is a genus of plants in the daisy family comprising about 70 species, with most of these native to North America.

Helianthus annuus is your classic sunflower and the most widely known to gardeners, but there are a ton of modern day cultivars that often produce lots more flowers and in a range of colours such as red, lilac and white.

Some are dwarf varieties, measuring less than a metre tall, while others are gargantuan and feature 50-centimetre flowers.

The tallest sunflower ever recorded was a 9.17 metre whopper from Germany!

What are they used for?

It's believed indigenous Americans cultivated sunflowers about 5,000 years ago, pounding the seeds into flour to make cakes or bread, mixing it with beans and corn and eating the seeds as a snack.

They also rubbed the oil on their skin and hair, and used dried flower stalks as a building material.

Today sunflowers are still cultivated widely for their nutritious edible seeds and for oil (e.g. for cooking).

In fact, sunflower oil can even be used for fuel.

One of the most interesting uses of sunflowers has been their planting at Chernobyl and Fukushima in the wake of nuclear disasters. It's believed the plants can soak up radiation from the soil!

In the sunflower's native home of North America, mice and squirrels collect the seeds, carry them away and store them in a burrow to eat later.

If the mice and squirrels forget where they've buried them, the seeds can grow into new plants the following year.

Recipe - Sunflower seed pesto

Try to make this delicious recipe at home!


  • 3 cups basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Option – try adding 3/4 cup parmesan cheese at Step 2 for a different flavor.


  1. Using a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle, finely chop/crush basil leaves and garlic.
  2. Add sunflower seeds, lemon juice, salt and pepper and combine until seeds are finely chopped.
  3. Add olive oil and combine.

Try your sunflower seed pesto in these different dishes

  • As pasta or pizza sauce
  • As a sandwich spread
  • As a dressing for salad or vegetables

Or create your own dish!

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