Used straight from the beginning as a natural source of fat, sunflower has been one of the first plants cultivated in the Americas, on the lands of today’s Mexico. The Incas were the first growers and adorers of the solar flower. The sunflower was a central part in many of their cult ceremonies: the priestesses were covering their heads with hats made of sunflowers in order to feel closer to the divinity, while their jewels were decorated with the same golden flowers. Its main role in ceremonies has been confirmed as well by the large number of golden sculptures and enormous paintings representing the flower, found in the Inca temples.
The sunflower was highly used by the many antic civilizations and not just as a source of food. Its petals were used in creating a purple dye to decorate their bodies and clothing. The flower also served medicinal purposes, taking the form of different ointments of which the people believe to cure even the snake bites. Due to the fact that ancient societies were fully exploiting any resource available, the flower’s green body was frequently used as a building material.
Following the great discovery of the New World, the plant reached Europe. The Spanish were the first sunflower importers, at the beginning of the 16th century, serving its purpose as a decorating flower. It is said the English were the first to extract sunflower oil, much later, in 1716.
During one of its travels in the western Europe, the Russian emperor Peter the Great became fascinated with the solar flower and, upon his return, he brought to Russia some of the precious seeds. Later, the sunflower became Russia’s national flower and started being cultivated on a large scale.