The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869    



Description:  This is the stately sunflower of our yards; a native of South America, but much cultivated for the bold look of its enormous flower-heads.  Its stem, on rich soils, will reach a height of twelve and even fifteen feet; and its flowers, with their brilliant yellow ray florets, tubular disk florets, and numerous angled achenia surrounded by scaly chaff, are exaggerated types of the Natural Order Compositae.

Properties and Uses:  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.

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