How to Eat a Sunflower

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Besides sunflower seeds, sunflowers are a great, but overlooked, source of food

From seed to stalk, the sunflower is an edible and nourishing plant. You can eat almost all of it one way or another.

Let's start with the sunflower seedling. From the moment of emergence to the time the seedling is about six inches high, it makes a good raw snack. It's packed with nutrients, as all edible sprouts are. Eat it as is, or in a salad or stir fry.

You can eat the leaves of older sunflower plants, although they're not as tasty as sprouts. They are nutritious and a good emergency food, eaten either raw or boiled like greens. Remove the tough center rib to make them more tender when you cook them. Season with salt and a little vinegar or salt, pepper and butter.

You can eat young sunflower stalks after peeling them, either by themselves as a snack or chopped into salads. Some say they taste a little like celery. They definitely have the same crunch.

When sunflower plants are old enough to bloom, watch for full buds. Pick them, pull off the bitter green around the bottom and plop them into boiling water for a few moments. They taste somewhat like artichokes and you can eat the same way. Offer a small dish of melted butter for dipping.

The fully opened sunflower has cheerful yellow rays which make a great garnish or salad ingredient. Alone, they're fine for a bite or two, but the bitter edge makes them unpleasant to eat by themselves, so mix them with other things.

As the sunflower matures, it brings us full circle to the seeds.


A strain called "Mammoth Russian" sunflower is the familiar snacking sunflower seed you see roasted and salted in bags at the grocery store. You can grow and make them yourself and not only save money, but have the fun of knowing that you've done it from beginning to end and you'll have a healthy snack to eat, too.

You may have trouble with birds eating the sunflower seeds when they begin to mature. Panty hose or other stretchy lightweight material pulled over the head will allow them to continue to mature safely. If you cut the sunflower head off before it's ready, the seeds won't have time to develop and you'll have some completely empty hulls as well.

The sunflower head is ready to harvest when the back of it is banana yellow, with drier, browner areas along the edges. Cut it off the stalk (which you can now use for fuel for a fire) and hang it in a warm, dry place. Make sure the head is completely dry with no green at all before trying to release the seeds and make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them.

To remove sunflower seeds from the head, put on a pair of clean gloves and rub the head briskly over a cloth or large bowl. To make roasted and salted sunflower seeds, soak them whole in heavy salt water over night then roast at a low temperature (250 degrees) for two or three hours, stirring them occasionally.

Some fun facts about sunflowers:

A wild sunflower plant will usually have upwards of twenty five flowers during the season. They seem small compared to cultured sunflowers, which usually only have one, but a very large one.

Does a sunflower really follow the sun? Yes, when they're in the bud stage. Once the flower has fully opened, strangely enough, most of the time it faces east. The reason is not known.

Sunflowers were cultivated by Native Americans thousands of years ago and were used for food, for medicine and for building. They were probably also used the woody, dry stems as fuel for their cooking fires and possibly harvested seed heads to bait traps for fowl in the winter months.

You might also be interested in how to harvest and enjoy dandelions.

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Posted on Jul 30, 2010