There’s nothing more beautiful than nodding sunflowers on a late-summer day. These native American plants have been bred to produce huge 12-foot-tall giants and miniature 2-foot-tall dwarves. Many varieties are grown primarily for their beautiful flowers. Some of these newer multiple-headed varieties produce flowers with petal colors ranging from white to burgundy.
Some even produce pollenless flowers that don’t make a mess when used as cut flowers in the house. But essentially sunflowers have been grown for years to be eaten. The large-headed Russian Mammoth varieties produce heads up to 2 feet in diameter and an abundance of sunflower seeds. Wait for the petals to drop and the back of the head to turn brown. Upon close inspection, you will find the plump seeds lying behind the spent flowers in the face of the head. You’ll just have to be quicker than the birds to harvest, because finches and other birds love to eat sunflower seeds as the seeds mature.
A simple way to protect your harvest is to wrap the maturing sunflower heads in paper bags to keep birds away. If squirrels and chipmunks get into the bags, try harvesting the heads when the backs are yellow, leaving a 1-foot section of stalk, and finish the maturation process in a warm garage or barn. Rub the face of the sunflower head when dry to dislodge the seeds. Let the seeds dry in a warm, dry location and then store them in glass jars. To roast sunflower seeds, soak overnight in salted water, and then roast on a baking pan in a 300 degree F oven for 30 minutes. This makes a great snack to share with your kids. Another way to eat sunflowers is to harvest the unopened flower buds. The flower buds looks similar to globe artichokes and are cooked the same way. Steam or boil them and serve your sunflower artichokes with melted butter or other dips. The flavor is similar to that of artichokes. If you want to use all parts of the sunflower, you can even keep old sunflower stalks and use them as Halloween decorations.