A common crop among American Indian tribes throughout North America. Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by American Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn. Seed was ground or pounded into flour for cakes, mush or bread. Some tribes mixed the meal with other vegetables such as beans, squash, and corn. It is the Native Americans and the Russians who completed the early plant genetics and the North Americans who put the finishing touches on it in the form of hybridization. Those early ancestors would quickly recognize their contributions to today's commercial sunflower if they were here. Taste is tops, but health and nutrition rank high for consumers who want foods that are as good for them as they are good to eat. Sunflower oil and kernels meet that challenge with their combination of health benefits and flavor. Researchers have known that nuts and seeds are rich sources of phytosterols, a class of plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
In what is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis to-date of the phytosterol content of nuts and seeds, chemists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA., analyzed some 27 nut and seed products that are most commonly consumed as snack foods in the United States.
The researchers found that pistachios and sunflower kernels had the highest levels of phytosterols among the nuts and seeds studied. From the National Sunflower Association.