Has anyone ever seen a field full of happy go lucky sunflowers and not smiled to themselves? These giant beauties can be seen all over farms and more recently suburban front yards soaking in the sun and brightening people’s days. Sunflowers are large, pretty, and one of the few species that really take heliotropism seriously! They turn their entire heads, leaves, and bodies to the sun and track it across the sky throughout each day.
Sunflowers are an abundant source of nectar as well, attracting friendly insect like bees and butterflies. All summer long these pretty, helpful creatures can find the nectar they are looking for in abundance. And when the sun starts to wane, so too do the flowers. They tell you when they are ready to drop seeds by tilting over, and the backs of the flowers and stems turn yellow, and then brown.
This is the sunflowers’ final gift: abundant, protein-filled seeds for all. Birds, squirrels, and humans all love these tiny seeds and seek them out. Luckily one flower can produce up to a half pound of seeds alone! Leave the seed heads on the flower, and birds will perch on the stalk to harvest. As they dry, seeds will fall to the ground where squirrels and other vermin can scoop them up.
To harvest seeds for your own use, drying & roasting or saving to plant next year, there are several options.
- Place a paper bag over the seed heads as they start to droop. Let the flower dry on its own, and shake the bag every so often. Be sure it doesn’t get wet. As seeds dry out and fall they will collect in the paper bag.
- Cut off the seed heads, bring them indoors, then hang them somewhere and place a bag over them. This ensures they will not get wet and no critters can interfere with your harvest.
- Cut off the seed heads and scoop out the seeds by hand. This way you don’t have to wait for the seeds to fall out on their own.
You can see that each individual floret has turned into a seed. One tablespoon of sunflower seeds has 4.5 grams of protein! And one seed is capable of producing a giant flower next year which will give you thousands more seeds. Amazing.
The way I harvested the seeds is to simply use my fingers to gently rub the seeds back and forth. You can feel them loosening, and when they fall out. The easier & faster way to do this is to use a spoon to scrape the seeds out. Be sure you do this over a large bowl or basket to catch all the seeds. It does get messy.
Now you have a big basket full of seeds. Pick out any large petals, leaves, or debris. If you are saving seed to plant next year, spread them on a flat surface and dry fully for a week or so, then store somewhere cool, dry, and dark until next spring.
To roast your sunflower seeds, there are two ways to do it:
- Rinse the seeds 3 times, and dry them in a salad spinner or on a large cloth. Place in a frying pan over medium heat with a pinch of salt, and shake them around over medium heat until they sound like pebbles rolling around.
- Rinse the seeds & dry. Bring 2 cups water + 1/2 cup salt to a boil, and boil the seeds for 5 minutes. Spread them out on an oven-safe pan, and roast at 350 for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally and being sure not to burn them.
Roasted sunflowers make a great snack, and if you grow the flowers yourself with nothing sprayed on them, you know they are nothing but organic, healthy protein! You can try using different spice mixes to liven things up too. Unfortunately you need heavy machinery to de-shell them easily, but you appreciate things more when you have to work for them. =)
Have you ever harvested sunflowers? What do you do with the seeds? Feel free to share in the comments!