Substance Info: (and synonyms)

Background Info:

See also: Sunflower seed, and Sunflower seed oil.

The Common sunflower is that from which we obtain sunflower oil and seeds. There are two other species of sunfower which are not food-related, H. debilis (sunflower), and H. decapetalus (perennial sunflower). H. debilis is a more slender plant, much branched, with rough, reddish stems.

The sunflower is native to Central America but is now grown in many semi-arid regions of the world from Argentina to Canada and from central Africa into the Soviet Union, mostly for its oilseeds. The leaves are usually used as fodder, and may be grown for this purpose alone, particularly where the season is too short and cool for maize.

The Common Sunflower is an annual, broadleaf plant with a tall hirsute stem, often un-branched, growing to 3 m at a fast rate and bearing a single, yellow, circular, large flower with a black centre. The leaves are hairy and oval shaped and 10 - 30 cm long and 5 - 20 cm wide.

The flowering head is at the terminal end off the main stem, 10 - 40 cm in diameter, rotating to face the sun (heliotropism), sometimes drooping. Sunflower heads consist of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together by a receptacle base. The large petals around the edge of a head are actually individual ray flowers. Pollination and seed development begin at the periphery of the grain head and move toward the centre. Flowers are produced through summer and autumn and are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant may produce heads on lateral branches, which are smaller. Insects pollinate the plant. The plant not is self-fertile.

The seeds ripen from September to October; usually taking about 30 days from the time the last flower is pollinated until maturity. The angular seeds are up to 6 mm long, and are spirally arranged and densely packed in the flat, terminal head. The seeds are variable in size, single-coloured or striped.

Sunflower may escape from cultivation, occurring on roadsides and wastelands.

Uses: For oil production, coffee, flowers and edible uses.

Low residual proteins may be found in the oil (Halsey 1996 ref.560 56), enough to result in anaphylaxis. (Kanny 1994 ref.750 92)


Adverse Reactions:


[ 1 / 5 ]

Anaphylaxis to honey in a 19 year old female with rhinoconjunctivitis and sensitized to Compositae pollen is described. Ten minutes after eating bread and honey she developed angioedema of the lips and tongue, runny nose, cough, dyspnoea, and collapse, requiring hospitalization. SPTs were positive to mugwort, ragweed, dandelion, and goldenrod. The prick to prick test was positive to 'Millefiori' (obtained from bees foraging on Compositae) and also to sunflower, limetree, and gum tree honey, while was negative for other kinds of honey, including the frequently used chestnut honey and acacia honey. The allergenic component responsible of anaphylaxis in this case seems to be a molecule occurring in Compositae pollens, but also in pollen from plants of different families. Honey contains a large number of components derived from bees, such as gland secretions and wax, as well as from substances related to their foraging activity, such flower nectar and pollens. (Fuiano 2006 ref.16401 7)

Fuiano N, Incorvaia C, Riario-Sforza GG, Casino G. Anaphylaxis to honey in pollinosis to mugwort: a case report. Allerg Immunol (Paris) 2006 Dec;38(10):364-365

[ 2 / 5 ]

This article reports on a 22 year old woman who developed rhinitis, nasal congestion, tearing, and facial and generalised urticaria to sunflower pollen concealed in a commercial product of peeled sunflower seeds. (Rottem 1998 ref.2286 0)

Rottem M, Waisel Y. Food allergy to concealed sunflower pollen. Allergy 1998;53:719-720

[ 3 / 5 ]

Contact dermatitis to sunflower leaves and flowers, producing a vesicobullour reaction at 2 days after patch testing. (Gomez 1996 ref.5109 8)

Gomez E, Garcia R, Galindo PA, Feo F, Fernandez FJ. Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from sunflower. Contact Dermatitis 1996;35(3):189-90

[ 4 / 5 ]

"Idiopathic" anaphylaxis. An evaluation of 102 patients with the initial diagnosis of idiopathic anaphylaxis with a battery of 79 food-antigen skin prick tests selected to include foods reported or suspected of provoking anaphylaxis. Only those patients whose episodes consisted of at least two of the following were included in the study: angioedema with or without hives, laryngeal edema leading to severe dyspnea, hypotension, or loss of consciousness. Thirty-two patients (31%) had positive tests to one or more food antigens. In five of these patients, subsequently eating a food that elicited a positive test provoked an anaphylactic reaction. In seven patients, 10 different antigens provoked anaphylaxis: aniseed, cashew nut, celery, flaxseed, hops, mustard, mushroom (species not specified), shrimp, sunflower, and walnut. The authors conclude that a battery of selected food-antigen skin prick tests provided a useful method for identifying an offending antigen in these patients and that some (7% in our series) cases of "idiopathic" anaphylaxis by history are not truly idiopathic. (Stricker 1986 ref.9257 4)

Stricker WE, Anorve-Lopez E, Reed CE. Food skin testing in patients with idiopathic anaphylaxis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1986;77(3):516-9

[ 5 / 5 ]

A 24-yr-old man developed rhinitis and conjunctivitis over 5 yr of occupational exposure to sunflower pollens, and asthma developed during the fifth year. All respiratory and occular symptoms disappeared after he was removed from exposure, but he had a food allergic reaction while he was eating honey containing 30% sunflower pollens. (Bousquet 1985 ref.69 825)

Bousquet J, Dhivert H, Clauzel AM, Hewitt B, Michel FB. Occupational allergy to sunflower pollen. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1985;75:70-74

Occupational reactions

[ 1 ]

Sunflower pollen has high allergenic potential, especially from close contact, e.g., occupational contact. 23.5% of 102 individuals working in a sunflower processing plant were found to be sensitized to sunflower pollen. (Atis 2002 ref.6030 7)

Atis S, Tutluoglu B, Sahin K, Yaman M, et al. Sensitization to sunflower pollen and lung functions in sunflower processing workers. Allergy 2002;57(1):35-9

[ 2 ]

14 consecutive patients with complaints due to the handling of flowers are described. The symptoms varied from allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma to urticaria. Most patients had professions in the flower industry. Skin prick tests (SPT) were performed with home-made pollen extracts from 17 different flowers known to be the most commonly grown and sold in The Netherlands. The diagnosis of atopy against flowers was based on work-related symptoms due to the handling of flowers, positive SPT with flower extracts, and positive RAST. The concordance between SPT and case history was 74%, and that between SPT and RAST was 77%
The following plants were implicated.
Flower Number of patients symptomatic
Narcissus 5
Alstroemeria 6
Asclepias 4
Dianthus 2
Ageratum 7
Matricaria 12
Chrysanthemum 12
Solidago 12
Aster 5
Helianthus 5
Gerbera 7
Euphorbia 5
Eustoma 7
Pelargonium 4
Saintpaulia 2
Freesia 5
Limonium 1
(de Jong 1998 ref.3315 6)

de Jong NW, Vermeulen AM, Gerth van Wijk R, de Groot H Occupational allergy caused by flowers. Allergy 1998;53(2):204-9

[ 3 ]

Sunflower pollen should be considered not only as an occupational allergen but as an allergenic source to be investigated in the general population living in sunflower-growing regions suffering from seasonal Summer allergy (Jimenez 1994 ref.2103 1)

Jiménez A, Moreno C, Martínez J, Martínez A, Bartolomé B, Guerra F, Palacios R. Sensitization to sunflower pollen: only an occupational allergy? Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1994;105(3):297-307

Information supplied from an abridged section of:
Allergy Advisor - Zing Solutions

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Allergy Advisor  - Food Additive and Preservative Allergy and Intolerance Database