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"Earth laughs in flowers." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

How about a little history lesson? Recently my wife started reading a book on herbs that was originally printed around 1933. In it there is a list of the crops that were grown one particular year by Charlemagne (Charles the Great), King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. I bring this up because it lead to an interesting conversation. We live in a world of constantly changing technology. On some level I am sure every generation has felt like they are moving further and further away from so called primitive lifestyles. But underneath all the window dressing of technology we are still very dependent on some very consistent and basic ideas and practices. One of which is the food that we grow and eat. Though you can buy all sorts of artificially flavored foods in your grocery store some of the cornerstones of our diets are rooted in the fabric of human existence and if we are lucky will continue to be a part of lives long after the current fads pass.

A perfect example of this is the beautiful sunflower. The sunflower, interestingly enough, is one of the few global foods that America can take credit for. Blueberries, cranberries and pecans are the others that are native plants gone global. Most gardeners or farmers are familiar with the Native Americans three sister (corn, squash and beans) but it is believed that the cultivation of the sunflower even predates the lovely sisters. There is sufficient evidence that Native Americans have been using sunflowers for medicine and food for nearly 8,000 years. Of course they used them for so much more, for example, dyes, beverages, and fiber.

Eventually the Spanish brought seeds to Europe after encountering the vast fields the Inca's grew. From there they made their way all over the continent. One of the oldest existing varieties is the Russian Giant which has also been called Russian Greystripe or Mammoth.

We have been growing giant sunflowers for about two years now. To add to the mix we went and ordered a batch of mixed seeds from the Seeds Savers Exchange in Decorah , Iowa. Sunflowers are certainly one of the easier crops to grow and if you don't want to take advantage of their nutritional value at least consider them for their pure beauty and take part in a historical journey.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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