Asteraceae - Uses

Uses

Commercially important plants in the Asteraceae include the food crops Lactuca sativa (lettuce), Cichorium (chicory), Cynara scolymus (globe artichoke), Helianthus annuus (sunflower), Smallanthus sonchifolius (yacón), Carthamus tinctorius (safflower) and Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).

Many members of the family are grown as ornamental plants for their flowers and some are important ornamental crops for the cut flower industry. Some examples are Chrysanthemum, Gerbera, Calendula, Dendranthema, Argyranthemum, Dahlia, Tagetes, Zinnia and many others.

Other commercially important species include Compositae used as herbs and in herbal teas and other beverages. Chamomile, which comes from two different species, the annual Matricaria recutita or German chamomile, and the perennial Chamaemelum nobile, also called Roman chamomile. Calendula, also called the pot marigold is grown commercially for herbal teas and the potpourri industry. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), is used as a medicinal tea. Winter tarragon, also called Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida is commonly grown and used as a tarragon substitute in climates where tarragon will not survive. Finally, the wormwood genus Artemisia includes absinthe (A. absinthium) and tarragon (A. dracunculus).

Compositae have also been used for industrial purposes. Common in all commercial poultry feed, marigold (Tagetes patula) is grown primarily in Mexico and central American nations. Marigold oil, extracted from Tagetes minuta, is used in the cola and cigarette industries.

Plants in Asteraceae are medically important in areas that don't have access to Western medicine. They are also commonly featured in medical and phytochemical journals because the sesquiterpene lactone compounds contained within them are an important cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Allergy to these compounds is the leading cause of allergic contact dermatitis in florists in the US. Pollen from ragweed Ambrosia is among the main causes of so-called hay fever in the United States.

Many members of Asteraceae are copious nectar producers and are useful for evaluating pollinator populations during their bloom. Centaurea (knapweed), Helianthus annuus (domestic sunflower), and some species of Solidago (goldenrod) are major "honey plants" for beekeepers. Solidago produces relatively high protein pollen, which helps honey bees over winter.

Some members of the Asteraceae are economically important as weeds. Notable in the United States are the ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, groundsel Senecio vulgaris and Taraxacum (dandelion).

The genera Tanacetum, Chrysanthemum and Pulicaria contain species with insecticidal properties.

Parthenium argentatum (guayule) is a source of hypoallergenic latex.

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