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Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 560 calories, 4.8 g H2O, 24.0 g protein, 47.3 g fat, 19.4 g total carbohydrate, 3.8 g fiber, 4.0 g ash, 120 mg Ca, 837 mg P, 7.1 mg Fe, 30 mg Na, 920 mg K, 30 mg b-carotene equivalent, 1.96 mg thiamine, 0.23 mg riboflavin, 5.4 mg niacin, and 0 mg ascorbic acid. Seeds contain 25–35% of oil, but cultivars have been bred in Russia with up to 50% oil. Oil contains 44–72% linoleic acid, and 13–20% protein of high biological value and digestibility. Stems and husks are rich in potash. The forage (ZMB) contains 8.8% protein, 2.9% fat, 77.2% total carbohydrate, 30.3g fiber, and 11.1 g ash. Another analysis shows young shoots contain: 13.0% protein, 1.9% fat, 70.3% total carbohydrate, 20.4 g fiber, 14.8 g ash, 1,670 mg Ca, and 370 mg P/100 g. The flowers contain 12.7% protein, 13.7% fat, 64.3% total carbohydrate, 32.9 g fiber, 9.3 g ash, 630 mg Ca, and 80 mg P/100 g. Sunflower oil has a high concentration of linoleic acid, intermediate level of oleic acid, and very low levels of linolenic acid. The saturated acids, palmitic and stearic, rarely exceed 12%, and the minor acids, lauric, arachidic, behenic, lignoceric, eicosenoic, etc. rarely add up to as much as 2%. Tocopherol, or vitamin E, is an important vitamin and natural antioxidant. Sunflower oil is somewhat unique in that the alpha form predominates, with 608, 17, and 11 mg/kg of alpha, beta, and gamma, compared with 116, 34, and 737 respectively for soybean/oil (Dorrell, 1981).
The seeds of the sunflower contain a considerable quantity of fixed oil, which may be obtained by cold pressure. It is bland, does not oxidize (dry) as does linseed oil, is quite nutrient, and probably could be put to good use in some arts. They also contain some mucilage; and the seed-vessels contain mucilage and a mild bitter principle. A decoction of the bruised acheniae, (seeds and husks,) made by boiling an ounce in a quart of water to a pint, acts quite efficiently upon the kidneys–promoting the flow of urine, and soothing inflamed and irritable conditions both of the kidneys and bladder. They are suited for acute cases, and deserve more attention than they have received. It also acts well on irritable coughs. Used warm, this decoction gently promotes the action of the oil-glands upon the surface, perhaps more efficiently than is done by the seeds of the burdock; and this fact renders it useful in scarlet fever.
A strong sirup may be used to advantage (in company with hepatic alterants) in such chaffy affections of the skin as tetter and lepra. It is asserted that when a house is surrounded by many sunflowers, its inmates suffer no intermittents, even in the worst ague districts. Without pretending to know any reason for this, I name it as an observation that has been made repeatedly by men of science and the most reliable travelers, including Humboldt, Bonpland, Rev. J. Fletcher, and Prof. Maury.
Helianthus occidentalis, called Western sunflower and Indian fever-root, is a species confined wholly to the Western States. Stem slender, without branches, almost leafless above, two to four feet high, almost imperceptibly downy, sometimes several from the same root. Leaves opposite or scattered, oval, rough, three to five inches long, upper ones reduced to little more than an inch long, base narrowed into a long, hairy, and half-clasping petiole. Flower-heads few, an inch to two inches in diameter, with from twelve to fifteen large and light-yellow ray florets, disk-florets also pale yellow. The root is perennial, dark colored, with numerous dark-colored fibers; of a strong and rather aromatic taste and smell.
The roots of this plant are relaxant and moderately stimulant, rather prompt, inducing slow but decided perspiration, a full flow of blood to the surface, and at last a gentle action on the kidneys and bowels. It is most valuable for its action on the skin in bilious and bilious remitting fevers; but its influence on the biliary apparatus, bowels, and kidneys, is important. Dr. H. Howard first called attention to it in these words: "A strong decoction of the root of this plant, drank freely, will operate as an emetic, and by continuing its use more moderately, relaxes the bowels, promotes perspiration, and effectually cures fevers. This article is one of the sweating plants used by the Indians; and it promises to become a valuable article of medicine." From a limited personal experience with it, I would urge it strongly upon the favorable notice of the profession.