Scientific Name: Helianthus annus
Also known as: Common Sunflower, Giant Sunflower, Prairie Sunflower, Single-Headed Sunflower
Sunflower seeds come from the large bright yellow flower that is actually 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together at the stem. Each sunflower head can grow to about 12 inches in diameter and can produce up to 2,000 seeds. The name sunflower comes from the Greek words helios (“sun”) and anthos (“flower”), and was given that name because the flowering heads are heliotropic, moving wherever the sun is.
The sunflower is North America's only native plant to become a major world crop. The use of the seeds goes back to 3000 BC, according to archeological findings, which showed that the Native Americans ate them, cured meats with them, healed snakebites with them and dyed body paint with them. Since the seeds could be dried, they were a staple food throughout winter. The sunflower was taken to Europe around 1510 as a decorative plant and then in the 18th century was used as a source of vegetable oil. Today, the world's leading producer is the Soviet Union. North Dakota, Minnesota and California are the top sunflower-growing states in the U.S.
Sunflower seeds are graded according to size and separated into groups. The large seeds are sold in the store to be eaten in the shell. The medium-sized seeds are usually hulled and sold without their shells. The small seeds are used for the bird and pet feed market. Many of the sunflowers today are used to make unsaturated oil for cooking.
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, a nut is the dry one-seeded fruit of any various trees or shrubs, consisting of a kernel, often edible, in a hard and woody or tough and leathery shell, separable from the seed itself. A seed is the part of the flowering plant that typically contains the embryo with its protective coat and stored food and that will develop into a new plant if sown. A nut is a seed, but a seed is not necessarily a nut. A seed is the part of the plant that can become a new plant. Seeds come from fruit. A nut is a specific type of seed that has hard external walls and does not open to release its seed.