Sunflowers, or soniashnyk in Ukrainian, are an important flower in Ukraine, with a rich history and cultural significance. The flower has been grown in Ukraine since the 18th century, as sunflowers made their way to Ukraine through the efforts of the early explorers of North America, where it was one of only a few native food crops (along with squash, blueberries and pecans).
Seeds were brought back to the old world, and found to grow well in hot, dry places with rich soil, such as the “Black Earth” regions of Ukraine.
The Cultural Significance of the Sunflower
In traditional Ukrainian folklore, sunflowers are believed to offer protection against evil spirits, bad fortune, and illness. Sunflowers are featured heavily in Ukrainian songs, poetry, and art, and they are even carved onto wooden furniture or painted onto walls.
In addition to their cultural significance, sunflowers also have practical uses. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of sunflower seeds and sunflower oil. Sunflower oil became popular during Lent when believers were not supposed to use butter or lard for cooking. Today, sunflowers are used in a variety of dishes and snacks and are enjoyed all over the world.
A Symbol of the Sun
Sunflowers have been grown in Ukraine since the 18th century, and they face the sunrise in the east, making them an excellent representation of the warmth and power of the sun. Before the arrival of Christianity, Slavs worshipped the sun, so it’s no surprise that sunflowers feature heavily in Ukrainian folk imagery.
Ukrainians wove sunflowers into wreaths for girls during celebrations, embroidered them on fabric and clothes, carved them on wooden furniture and household items, and even painted them on walls. The flowers that embellished dresses and shirts didn’t have a merely decorative meaning.
Used for Decoration and Protection
In Ukraine, sunflowers aren’t just pretty to look at – they’re also believed to offer protection against evil spirits, bad fortune, and illness. They feature in traditional Ukrainian songs, poetry, and art, and you can even find them carved onto wooden furniture or painted onto walls.
People also used them to protect the wearer against evil spirits, bad fortune and illness. Embedded in national folklore, you can find sunflowers in traditional Ukrainian songs, poetry, and art.
The Power of Sunflower Oil
Sunflowers are not just culturally important but also have a significant economic impact in Ukraine. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Ukraine was the largest exporter of sunflower seeds in the world in 2020, with exports valued at $1.6 billion.
Sunflower oil is the most important export commodity for Ukraine, accounting for around 10% of the country’s total exports. The sunflower industry also provides employment opportunities for thousands of people in Ukraine, particularly in rural areas where agriculture is a significant source of income.
Medicinal Properties of Sunflowers
Apart from being a significant part of Ukrainian culture, sunflowers also have medicinal properties. Sunflower oil is rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids, which can lower the risk of heart disease and improve skin health. Sunflower seeds are also rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, which can promote gut health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
A Symbol of Peace
Throughout Ukraine’s history, the sunflower has also been used as a symbol of peace. In 1996, a ceremony was held at southern Ukraine’s Pervomaysk missile base to celebrate Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons. The U.S., Russian, and Ukrainian defense ministers planted sunflowers to mark the occasion.
More than 25 years later, the meaning of the sunflowers as symbols of peace remains strong, and people worldwide are planting the seeds again for a more peaceful future.
Sunflower Fun Facts
- Sunflowers have a long history of practical and artistic use. Native Americans used sunflowers in cooking, oil, dyes, and medicine. The Cherokee and Dakota tribes even used them to heal kidneys and chest pain.
- In addition to their many uses, sunflowers are also eco-friendly helpers. After disasters like the Chernobyl nuclear accident and the Fukushima tsunami, sunflowers were used to extract toxins from the soil.
- Famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh was also a fan of sunflowers and painted two series of still life paintings featuring them in the 19th century.
- Sunflowers also exhibit an amazing natural phenomenon called heliotropism, where they turn their heads to follow the sun across the sky and droop at sundown.
- Sunflowers can reach incredible heights. The tallest sunflower on record, grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer in Germany, reached a towering 30 feet 1 inch!