How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds to Eat or Plant

Learn how to harvest sunflower seeds to eat or to plant in next year’s garden with these simple steps. This guide will show you the easiest way to remove ripe seeds from sunflower blooms for a nutritious snack. Plus you’ll learn tips for using these edible seeds to feed wildlife and plant in your garden the following year.

​In this guide, we’ll explore the art of harvesting sunflower seeds, ensuring you can enjoy the rewards of your sunflower variety in different ways, from tasty snacks to providing nourishment for wild birds during the winter months.

Discover the right time to harvest and the essential steps, from drying the seed heads to the careful process of collecting, cleaning, and storing these delicious seeds for future use.

how to harvest sunflower seeds to eat

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Sunflower plants are known for their beautiful flowers boasting bright colorful outer petals and their ability to produce some of the best seeds for snacking.

After enjoying the colorful sunflowers at the end of the season, the good news is that these majestic flowers still have something to offer those who grow their own sunflowers.

At the end of the growing season, it’s the perfect time to harvest sunflower seeds to eat or plant.

how to harvest sunflower seeds to plant or eat

How Do I Know When Sunflower Seeds Are Ready to Harvest? 

A great way to tell if it is harvest time is by examining the back of the flower head.

During the harvest season, you will begin to notice the backs of the flowerheads turning a dark yellow and then ultimately turn brown.

The bright sunny face of a sunflower will have faded and most of the inner flowers will have fallen off of the sunflower heads.

For those embarking on their first sunflower seed harvest, you may not be aware that they not only contain lots of seeds but also conceal a multitude of tiny flowers within their vibrant heads.

Numerous sunflower varieties grace the landscape of backyard gardens yet, amidst their common appeal, a remarkable secret resides within the seed head of the helianthus annuus.

Unbeknownst to many, hundreds of tiny florets are hidden within concealed by their iconic blooms, you can scroll back up to see them clearly in the photo above.

It is difficult to see this hidden detail on the back of sunflower seed packets or a quick glance at the flower but they become more evident in late Summer or early fall.

During this time, many of the small flowers detach, revealing the emergence of mature seeds where small flowers once graced the head of the flower.  

You will begin to notice the emergence of dark spots at the rear of the seed head. You will also see the transformation of the backside from yellow to brown, and the complete withering and shedding of the flower’s once vibrant petals. 

Additionally, when you observe the sunflower seeds appearing plump and having reached their full development, you can be confident that these seeds are ripe and ready for harvest.

how to harvest sunflower seeds to eat

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds to Eat

Once you figure out when the best time to harvest sunflower seeds is, you can begin the process of removing the seeds from the plant with the following simple steps.

Prepare the Sunflower Head for Harvest

Begin by making a clean cut at the base of the flower head with a sharp knife, neatly separating it from the sturdy stalk. This step will allow you to work with the sunflower head more easily.

Gently brush off the top layer of floret flowers. They should readily detach, minimizing mess and hassle.

How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Lay out a generous sheet of parchment paper or newspaper to capture the sunflower seeds that will be released during the process.

To free the seeds, use a mix of pulling, twisting, and applying gentle pressure to the sunflower head. It may take a bit of exertion.

Breaking the sunflower head apart can be beneficial to ease the seed extraction process. 

Scrape out the seeds and shake off any excess flowers or hull that is attached. Continue this process until all of the sunflower seeds are extracted from the plant. 

how to harvest sunflower seeds to eat

How to Dry Sunflower Seeds

After you have figured out how to harvest sunflower seeds to eat, it’s time to move on to the drying process.

Sunflower seeds can be dried in two ways: either on the stalk before harvesting or on a cookie sheet after harvest.

If drying outside be sure to protect the flowers from moisture and cover them with fine netting to prevent wildlife from eating them during the drying process.

Regardless of the method you choose, ensure that you place the seeds in a cool, dry environment to prevent moisture absorption.

Any dry area in your home will work just be sure to keep them in a dry spot, free of extra humidity. 

Utilize a baking sheet lined with paper towels to dry the individual seeds, spreading them out to ensure a single layer. 

Dry seeds for several days. If drying on the stalk, hang the flower head in a dry place with direct sunlight if possible.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will want the seeds to be completely dry before cooking them so choosing a dry location is essential.

harvested sunflower seeds

How to Easily Remove Sunflower Seed Shells

Start by grabbing a plastic bag and toss in your sunflower seeds. Make sure they’re spread out in there, not all crammed up. About a cup’s worth of seeds should do the trick.

Now, grab a rolling pin. With gentle and even pressure, roll it over the seeds in the bag. This action will crack those stubborn shells, making your life easier in the next step.

Next, take the cracked seeds and shells and put them into a bowl filled with a quart of water or more to fill your bowl.

It’s almost like magic! You’ll see the heavier sunflower seeds quickly sink to the bottom, while the outer shell will naturally float to the top.

That’s it! A simple way to process your sunflower seeds, leaving you with delicious, shell-free seeds ready to enjoy or store.

Don’t toss the sunflower hulls as they can make a great mulch for your garden.

sunflower ready to harvest

How to Roast Sunflower Seeds in Shells

One of the easiest things to do with sunflower seeds is to roast them in the shell. If you prefer salted seeds, start by soaking the seeds overnight in a large bowl with about 5 cups of water and a 1/4 cup of salt.

If you prefer unsalted seeds you can use plain water in place of salted water and save yourself an extra step. 

Dry the seeds on top of a piece of newspaper or spread out a brown paper bag to absorb the extra moisture.

Sprinkle salt or your favorite seasonings on top and bake in an oven preheated to 325 degrees for about 25 minutes. 

Store leftovers in an airtight container such as a mason jar in a dark place for several weeks. 

sunflower head

Can You Eat Raw Sunflower Seeds Straight from the Flower? 

Yes, you can eat raw homegrown sunflower seeds straight from the flower but they will not be quite as tasty as roasted sunflower seeds.

Most people prefer to roast sunflower seeds before consuming them but they are perfectly safe to eat straight from the flower.

If you prefer to eat all of your sunflowers this way, there is no need to soak them or roast them but it is still advised to remove any pests that may be lurking inside the flower head.

Once you have removed the seeds be sure to store them in an air-tight container.  

sunflower opening up

What to Do with Sunflower Seeds After Harvest

Hungry birds will love snacking on ripening seeds from all varieties of sunflowers making this plant a great addition to your garden.

You can make suet cakes, offer a bowl of loose seeds for the birds, and even store seeds for the Spring to feed your favorite avian visitors. 

You could also make a variety of recipes such as sunflower nut butter, and trail mix, or even try your hand at extracting the sunflower oil from the seeds.

Sunflower seeds can be incorporated into baked goods like bread, muffins, cookies, and granola bars for added texture and nutrition.

You can save sunflower seeds to plant next year, these little envelopes make great seed packets.

The possibilities seem endless with every single seed planted. If you have volunteer sunflowers in your yard you may be surprised by the amount of seeds they produce.

Different varieties of sunflowers will yield different amounts of seeds so be sure to plant a few extra individual seeds next year to get a solid yield of new seeds for all of your favorite recipes.

ready to pick flowers in the garden

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Roasted Sunflower Seeds

harvested sunflower seeds

Ingredients

  • 5 Cups of Water
  • 1/4 Cup of Salt

Instructions

    One of the easiest things to do with sunflower seeds is to roast them in the shell. If you prefer salted seeds, start by soaking the seeds overnight in a large bowl with about 5 cups of water and a 1/4 cup of salt.

    If you prefer unsalted seeds you can use plain water in place of salted water and save yourself an extra step. 

    Dry the seeds on top of a piece of newspaper or spread out a brown paper bag to absorb the extra moisture.

    Sprinkle salt or your favorite seasonings on top and bake in an oven preheated to 325 degrees for about 25 minutes. 

    Store leftovers in an airtight container such as a mason jar in a dark place for several weeks.

The Hobby Wife

The Hobby Wife

Greenhouse and backyard gardener, devoted homemaker, and passionate recipe creator. My journey through life revolves around my unwavering love for food and travel. As a passionate cook, I blend my garden's bounty with culinary finesse and inspiration from my travels. From farm-to-table homestyle dishes to copycat recipes that offer something unique, my kitchen is a canvas where flavors harmonize and ingredients tell stories.

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