When summer is at its peak, its not uncommon to see rows of sunflowers blooming in all of their colorful glory. Ranging from just a foot or two high to well over eight feet in height, sunflowers come in a variety of yellows and oranges. Sunflowers have been growing in North America for ages, so there is a significant amount of folklore surrounding them. Let’s look at some of the superstitions and customs about sunflowers from various cultures and societies.
Early colonists in North America learned about the many uses of sunflowers from the Native American tribes near them. In addition to being useful as a source of yellow and orange dye for fabric, the sunflower also comes in handy medicinally - it was known for its antimalarial properties. Some people also believed that sunflower seeds were preventatives against the spread of smallpox.
The sunflower originated in South and Central America, and migrated north, most likely due to the migration of Spanish conquistadors. Remains of sunflowers dating back 4,600 years have been found in Mexico. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers took sunflowers back to Europe with them, and the species has spread around the world since then.
In many folkloric traditions, sunflowers are seen as symbols of good luck. Planting them around your home and garden will bring fortune your way. It is also said that if you pick a sunflower at sunset, then wear it on your person, it will bring you good luck the following day.
Sunflowers are often associated with truth, loyalty, and honesty. If you want to know the truth about something, sleep with a sunflower under your pillow - and the next day, before the sun goes down, the truth should be revealed to you. The sunflower is considered a flower of loyalty because day after day, it follows the sun, from east to west. In some folk magic traditions, it is believed that slipping a bit of sunflower oil or seeds into someone’s food or drink will cause them to be loyal to you.
Greek Sunflower Girl:
In Greek mythology, there was a maiden who fell in love with Apollo. Every time he passed overhead in his fiery sun chariot, she stood in her garden and gazed at him longingly, even though she had chores and tasks to attend to. Apollo, who made a point of shining brightly so people on earth couldn’t actually see him, eventually got fed up with the girl’s foolishness. He flung one of his sun arrows at her, and she turned into a sunflower on the spot. To this day, she faces east in the morning and west in the evenings, following the path of Apollo. In some versions of the story, it was not Apollo but the other gods who took pity upon her and turned her into a sunflower.
Aspects of the Sun:
The sunflower is often associated with fertility, thanks to its connection to the sun. To bring about conception, eat sunflower seeds or take a ritual bath with sunflower petals. A necklace or crown of dried sunflower heads can be worn - particularly at Litha, the summer solstice - to bring about fertility.
In 17th Century Europe, some rural practitioners of folk magic used an ointment that would help them see the Faerie folk. This used a blend of several summer, sun-oriented flowers, mixed in with sunflower oil and left in the sun for three days until it thickened.
In some forms of Hoodoo, the sunflower is associated with great joy. The oil is often used as a base in magical oils for ritual purposes.