Annuals Cooking Gardening Vegetables Year of

Taste the Sunny Goodness of Sunflowers

Cheery, bright sunflowers: they’re the perfect plant to entice pollinators, add garden drama (the good kind, that is!), lure little ones to play among the towering stalks, and brighten celebrations with brilliant, charming blooms. If you’re not growing sunflowers … well, why AREN’T you growing sunflowers? After all, it’s the Year of the Sunflower, and you should join the sunflower craze! And once you’re growing them…

Bird eating sunflower seeds from the flower head.

Birds and other wildlife love sunflower seeds—but so do we! Do you know that you can expand your sunflower menu to include more than just salty seed snacks? Add healthy, nutritious (shelled) sunflower seeds to your favorite bread recipes, try them in muffins, sprinkle them in desserts, or add them to pasta, salads, veggies, and egg dishes. Naturally, they’re also the perfect addition to trail mix.

But how do you know when your sunflower seeds are ready—and how do you harvest them?

Sunflower seeds maturing in the flower.
  1. First, make sure your sunflowers are pollinated. You’ll see seeds starting to form.
  2. Cover the flower heads with a lightweight fabric, like tulle or a tightly woven mesh bag, to let the airflow in—but keep the birds and critters out! Secure the fabric or bag tightly at the base of the flower head.
  3. When the petals wilt and the back of the flower head is dry and brown, it’s time to harvest the seeds.
  4. Cut the flower heads and hang them in a cool, dry place inside for about four weeks.
  5. When the flower head is completely dry, it’s time to harvest the seeds. Remove the hanging flower heads, and place a container under them. Pull the heads apart to release the seeds, using your fingers to pop them out of the flower head.
  6. Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, or place them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Roasted Sunflower Seeds

Recipe from Botanical Interests

Shelled sunflower seeds.
  • Shell your sunflower seeds and spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or shallow pan.
  • Roast in a 300˚F (150˚C) oven for 30 or 40 minutes until golden. Stir the seeds occasionally.
  • Seeds develop a small crack down the center as they roast. Taste a few seeds to make sure they are completely roasted.
  • Want to add some fun flavors to your sunflower seeds? Mix a teaspoon of melted butter with a cup of seeds while they are still warm from the oven, then sprinkle the seeds with your favorite seasoning, like barbeque, taco, or ranch. Yum!

That not only are the seeds edible, but so are the flower petals and buds? Use the pretty petals to add a burst of brightness to salads, or decorate your favorite desserts with a bit of beauty! If you love the taste of artichokes, try cooking homegrown sunflower buds for a garden-to-table treat.


Salted Seeds in the Shell

Recipe from Botanical Interests

Unshelled sunflower seeds.
  • Soak seeds overnight in salted water (1/4 to ½ cup/60 to 120 ml salt in 2 quarts/2 litres of water).
  • Drain and pat seeds dry with paper towels.
  • Roast as instructed above.

Enjoy growing your sunflowers … and putting them on your menu!

Article offered by the National Garden Bureau, a non-profit organization promoting the pleasures of home gardening. For more information on growing sunflowers, go to 2021: Year of the Sunflower.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Taste the Sunny Goodness of Sunflowers

  1. Good article.

  2. Margaret

    I’m happy to let birds eat all my sunflower seeds ! 🌻 🌻 🌻

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