The highly ornamental and extensive genus of plants to which this plant belongs derives its scientific name, helianthus, from helios, sun, and anthos, a flower, on account of the brilliant color of the flower, and from the erroneous idea, propagated by poets and others, that the flowers always turned towards the sun—hence, also, the French name tournesol. It appears to possess far more profitable qualities than have been hitherto supposed, and may be cultivated with advantage and applied to many useful purposes. An acre of land will contain 25,000 sunflower plants, at twelve inches distance from each other.
The great variety of valuable properties belonging to the sunflower seed have been much neglected. No plant produces such fine honey and wax, and when the flower is in blossom, bees abound in it. The produce will be according to the nature of the soil and mode of cultivation; but the average has been found to be fifty bushels of the seed per acre, which will yield fifty gallons of oil. The oil is excellent, when refined, for table use, for burning in lamps, for soap making, and for painting—especially for mixing green and blue paints. The marc, or refuse of the seeds of the above quantity after the oil has been expressed, made into cakes, will produce 1500 lbs., and the stalks, when burnt for alkali, will give 10 per cent. of potash. The green leaves of the sunflower, when dried and burnt to powder, mixed with bran, make excellent fodder for milk cows. It makes a beautiful soap, particularly softening to the hands and face, and is pleasant to shave with. The cake is superior to linseed for fattening cattle. Sheeps, pigs, pigeons, rabbits, poultry of all sorts, etc., will fatten rapidly upon it, and prefer the seed to any other; it causes pheasants in particular to have a much more glossy plumage and to be plumper in the body. It also increases the quantity of eggs from poultry fed with it. The seed, shelled, makes when ground very fine sweet flour for bread, particularly tea-cakes.
The sunflower will grow in any corner that may be vacant, and will give a farm a most agreeable garden-like appearance. It should be planted about six inches apart, and about one inch deep, and when about one foot high should be earthed up; it then will require no further attention. Every single seed will produce 1000 or more; the main head generally produces 800 to 1000 seeds, and there are usually four collaterals, producing 50 to 60 seeds each. But it is not the seed only that is valuable, for by treating the stalk exactly as flax, it will produce a fibre as fine as silk, and that in large quantities. Now that rags become so valuable, arising from the unprecedented demand for paper, the stalk might be made useful for that purpose.
On some grounds two crops may be growing at the same time. When the farmer has given his early potatoes a last hoeing, he may plant this seed twelve inches apart in the ridges. The Chinese have it by thousands of tons and worship it. There can be no doubt that many of their silk goods have a large portion of the sunflower fibre in them. According to Boussingault, some experiments made by M. Gauzac, of Dagny, gave the produce per acre of seed, at 15 cwt. 3 qr. 14 lb.; the oil per acre 275 lbs., being 15 per cent. and the cake 80 per cent. Next to poppy-seed oil, sunflower oil burns the longest of any in equal quantities. The seeds vary in color, being either white, grey, striped or black. From them is expressed a palatable clear and flavorless oil, the demand for which in Russia is very great. It is exported from St. Petersburg at about 10s. 6d. the cwt., and is said to be extensively used, like cotton-seed oil, after purifying, for adulterating olive or salad oil.
In Russia a considerable quantity is grown for oil pressing. The plant is largely cultivated in Kiels and Podolia, eastward on the black soil lands. The stalks are used for fuel. The manufacture of the oil, which was formerly confined to the Government of Voroneje, has recently been carried on in that of Saratov, and in the town of that name there were, in 1867, at least thirty oil-presses. Mr. Alexander Knobloch, of Sarepta, has one worked by steam-power. The seed is supplied by the peasants of the neighborhood. The production in Russia in 1867 (including a few other miscellaneous oil seeds) was officially stated at 335,000 cwt. At Voroneje 6000 to 8000 poods (of 36 lbs.) of seeds are produced. In Russia the seed sells at about 40 copecks the pood, or 2 roubles 60 copecks the chetwert; the oil at 3 ½ to 4 roubles the pood.—Pharm. Journ. and Trans., August 5, 1871, from Journal of Applied Science.