General: coarse plant, 40-200 cm tall. Growth habit: erect annual, branching, from fibrous roots. Stems: rough-hairy.
Leaves: mainly alternate, (the lowermost opposite), long-stalked, 10-20 cm long, mostly toothed, ovate or broader, lower leaves often cordate.
Flowerheads: large, with yellow rays, the reddish-brown disk seldom less than 2 cm wide. Involucral bracts usually ovate or oblong and narrowed to an abruptly pointed tip, commonly more or less with stiff, bristly hairs, and hairy on the margins. Receptacle flat or nearly so, its bracts merely slightly short-hairy at the tip.
Fruits: achenes, thick, moderately flattened, 2- or 4-angled, 5-10 mm long (sunflower seeds), with pappus of 2 stiff bristles, soon dropped.
Common on open, dry or moderately moist soil, especially in waste places, in the valleys and foothills in all parts of MT. Native in w. U.S., now widespread as a weed.
The seeds of sunflower can be eaten raw or cooked. Rich in fats, the seed can be ground into a powder, made into sunflower butter or used to make seed yoghurt. When mixed with cereal flours, it makes a nutritious bread. The germinated seed is said to be best for seed yoghurt, it is blended with water and left to ferment. The sprouted seed can be eaten raw. A high quality edible semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed. It is low in cholesterol, and is said to be equal in quality to olive oil. It is used in salads, margarines, or in cooking. The roasted seed is also a coffee and drinking chocolate substitute. Young flower buds - steamed - can be served like globe artichokes. The leaf stalks can be boiled and mixed in with other foods.
A tea made from the leaves is astringent, diuretic and expectorant, it is used in the treatment of high fevers. The crushed leaves are used as a poultice on sores, swellings, snakebites and spider bites. The leaves are harvested as the plant comes into flower and are dried for later use. A tea made from the flowers is used in the treatment of malaria and lung ailments. The flowering head and seeds are febrifuge, nutritive and stomachic. The seed is also considered to be diuretic and expectorant. It has been used with success in the treatment of many pulmonary complaints. A decoction of the roots has been used as a warm wash on rheumatic aches and pains.