I've written a lot about heirloom varieties of vegetables, but there are heirloom varieties of just about any plant. Take for example sunflowers. They have been around for a very long time. Some dates I have see put them back to 2600 b.c. While it's generally it's thought they originated in Central America, The Ancient Greeks have a myth about how the sunflower was created.
Clytie was a water-nymph and in love with Apollo, who made her no return. So she pined away, sitting all day long upon the cold ground, with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders. Nine days she sat and tasted neither food nor drink, her own tears, and the chilly dew her only food. She gazed on the sun when he rose, and as he passed through his daily course to his setting; she saw no other object, her face turned constantly on him. At last, they say, her limbs rooted in the ground, her face became a flower,* which turns on its stem so as always to face the sun throughout its daily course; for it retains to that extent the feeling of the nymph from whom it sprang.
* The sunflower.
Sunflowers have been a staple with Native American nations for food, oil, and dye. They are credited with domesticating them in the Americas. The Hopi Dye Sunflower is a plant that I have known about for a very long time. I recall reading about them when I was young. I was fascinated by the concept that a dye could be made from something I snacked on. That thought got tucked away in my brain until this year while perusing sunflowers for my garden. I came across the Hopi Dye Sunflower and that thought popped out of hiding. I ordered the seeds.
The Hopi used it for dying yarn, baskets and face paint. The seeds will stain your fingers purple when harvesting them, and to extract the dye, boil the seeds. My fingers did get stained when I was harvesting the seed. I did extract they dye, the water in the pot turned black. I've read that you can extract dye from the stems and leaves which will be green. While researching this, I found out there's many plants and techniques that are used for creating dye. This presents another opportunity for those who wish to create a vegetable dye garden, and create a heirloom out that.
The plants are gorgeous. Sturdy, with deeper roots than the other sunflowers I grew this year. They are large plants but not overwhelming. There is one large central bloom, and multiple smaller blooms on the plants. The petals are nice rich yellow color, and the plants I grew, the center with the seeds were the dominant feature of the blooms. The seeds I planted were a rich, solid black with a sheen that looked they were varnished. The seeds I harvested did not have that full black color, but I also harvested them early since a hurricane was coming and I didn't want to lose the plants to the weather.
From reading some the information out there the Hopi Dye is a rare seed to come by. Sunflowers are so trendy now that there are more popular varieties that are more uniform and more appropriate as cut flowers. This trend is pushing the older varieties out.
As I have written before and will continue to write, one value of these heirloom varieties is the history and tradition with them. Take a minute and consider that a nation of people grew this plant for centuries. That is is not a trend, it's a a sustainable tradition.
Another value is you can't buy them at the market. You can only grow them. For those who don't garden that presents a challenge, to those folks I say this, think about the people in your life who do garden, ask them if they start their plants with seeds. If they do, consider these varities as gifts for them.
By doing so you can start a trend to sustain tradition.
If you love sunflowers and are looking for calender for 2012, check out Sunflowers a Go Go. The proceeds will benefit Vanishing Feast.