Sunflowers: Good For You and Great For Bees!
Sunflower seeds are incredibly rich in B vitamins, especially folic acid, and also contain essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and healthy polyphenol compounds. They also have very high amounts of minerals like selenium, manganese, copper, and zinc. But how else are sunflowers important to nutrition? Because bees love them, and bees pollinate many other crops!
Since 2006, beekeepers in the United States have been reporting drastic declines in bee populations, a phenomenon which has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder. The USDA estimates that up to one third of the American diet is influenced by this problem, through bee pollination of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, forage crops, and even some field crops. The die-off of bees is believed to be caused by overuse of agricultural pesticides, unknown pathogens, or some combination of stresses to the bee population. More research is needed so we can fix whatever is wrong.
There's a great program that my kids have participated in for several years now, called The Great Sunflower Project. The name is misleading though, because it's more about bees than sunflowers! With the number of bees on the decline, this project seeks to involve kids in the research to find a solution. Here's a description from The Great Sunflower site:
The foods you grow in your home garden and that are grown in gardens around the world help people make ends meet in a healthy, sustainable way. Many plants can't set fruit until they have been visited by a bee.
We know that some bees have had severe declines which may be affecting food production. No one has ever measured how much pollination is happening over a region, much less a continent so, we don't know anything about how these declines in bees influence gardens.
Our project is going to use data collected by people like you to produce the first real map of the state of the bees. The only way to do this is to get as many people as possible collecting information from as many places as possible.
So in short, you sign up with the project, plant some sunflowers in your yard, and report back with your data of how many bees visit your sunflowers. Counting bees is a great project for the kids!
Sunflowers are very easy to grow and have multiple culinary uses. You can add roasted and salted sunflower seeds to your healthy diet by sprinkling them on salads or along with stir-fry and veggie dishes. They're also a great snack. Unlike many nuts, the rate of allergic reactions to sunflowers is very low, so they can be ground up to make a delicious substitute for peanut butter in families with food allergies.
Nutritionally speaking, sunflowers are off the charts. But they also attract bees, which are important for the pollination of countless other crops. So consider planting a few sunflowers this season to benefit from their incredible nutritional profile and make the birds and bees happy too!