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Lake Effect’s Joy Powers chats with Venice Williams, the executive director of Alice’s Garden and the Fondy Food Center, about gardening, herbal remedies and healthy cooking.

4 ways to use sunflowers

Natural Homemade sunflower oil with flowers and seeds on old table. Outdoors
Stock Adobe
Ever wondered what to do with sunflowers?

Many of us are finally seeing the literal fruits of our labors in our gardens, with the height of the growing season producing a bounty of food. That doesn’t mean the planting season is over and there’s one conspicuous flower that is still being planted this time of year: the sunflower.

With its later growing season, the sunflower can be a perfect addition to any garden—providing beauty and bounty. Venice Williams is the executive director of Alice’s Garden and the interim-executive director of the Fondy Food Center. Every month, she shares more for Dig In! A series all about gardening and healthy cooking.

Here's four ways to get the most from them:

  1. Sunflowers in Support of Ukraine

    Williams' first recommendation is special to her because sunflowers are Ukraine's national flower and have been grown there since the middle of the 18th century. Throughout Ukraine's history, the flower has been used as a symbol of peace.

    "If you want to do something that just reminds us that we are connected to what is happening in Ukraine, I just would like for our community, our Greater Milwaukee community, and all folks to just plant sunflowers right now," says Williams.

  2. Soil Remediation

    A lot of people think about soil excavation or pumping pollutants out of the soil or doing some other methods, but the sunflower itself pulls up those contaminants, holds them in its stem, and it doesn't go up to the flowers. All varieties of sunflowers can be used to help remediate soil, but Williams suggests using Ring of Fire Sunflower, Russian mammoth Sunflower and Velvet Queen Sunflower.

    "It is one of the easiest ways to get lead out of the soil, arsenic, zinc, copper, and all of these contaminants that we really don't want in our soil. But one of the most famous ways that people really began to understand this was again and Ukraine in 1986, following the Chernobyl disaster, you know, one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents in our history," says Williams.

  3. Sunflower Grain and Oil

    Williams says that sunflowers were grown to be milled to be ground into grain and flour. If you're looking to eat sunflower seeds raw, she suggests buying organic sunflower seeds at your local store.

    "Historically, sunflowers seeds have been used for baking, for making breads and for making cakes. And of course, we cannot forget sunflower oil. And sunflower oil is one of my favorite oils, it tends to be a little bit more expensive. Again, culturally and historically, sunflower oil was the oil that was used to protect your skin from the sun," says Williams.

  4. Great Sunflower Book : A Guidebook With Recipes

    This month's book suggestion by Williams is called the Great Sunflower Book: A Guidebook With Recipes. Williams says it's a small, thin narrow book by Barbara Flores. The book tells the history of sunflowers. It has all of the sunflower varieties and has growing tips.

    "My favorite section is the recipes, it has so many recipes for using sunflower seeds, especially and then for grinding sunflower seeds. I really encourage you, if you're able to find it, and it's still in print to read it. I've had it for about 20 years, I believe, probably longer than that. The Great Sunflower Book is my favorite of all sunflower books," says Williams.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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