Sunflower Seeds are for the Birds – Not!

Do you grow sunflowers? Many people that do, leave the seeds for the birds. That’s a nice thing to do, but you can also keep some seeds for yourself.

We grow Mammoth Sunflowers which get about 10 feet tall, and the flowers grow at least a foot across. When the yellow flowers die, the leaves begin to turn brown, and the heads droop, you can start checking the seeds for ripeness. Pull out a seed and crack it open with your teeth. If there’s a tiny seed inside, they’re ripe. If they aren’t quite ripe enough and you have critters who frequent your garden, you may want to wrap the head in a cheese cloth or even a plastic shopping bag and leave it for a couple more weeks. This will keep the birds and squirrels from eating all the seeds. These Mammoth sunflowers give us about two cups of seeds per head.

Once the seeds are ripe, they should easily fall off the sunflower when you rub them. Once ripe, cut the head off the stem with shears or a sharp knife. Rub the sunflowers seeds off the head into a container. It’s a little messy. It’s also fun for kids to do and it won’t hurt them to eat raw sunflower seeds! If the seeds come off the head easily, it’s ripe enough. If it’s not easy, it’s not ripe enough. Let it sit for a couple weeks to dry out. Once you have all your seeds, pick out the stems and junk (did I mention it’s messy?), rinse, and let thoroughly dry to save for next year’s garden.

If you want to snack on them, simmer in salted water for 15-20 minutes. (2 cups of seeds with a quart of water and between 2 Tbs and 1/4 c of kosher salt, depending on how salty you like your snacks.) Drain and spread on a cookie sheet. Place in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, use a spatula or spoon to pull a couple out. Bite the shell with your teeth to see if it’s still soggy or crunchy. If still soggy, leave in the oven for two more minutes and check again. Be very vigilant as they can go from perfectly crunchy to burnt in one second.

Snack on them immediately or store them in a mason jar or Ziploc bag. They will last in an airtight container in the fridge for a year!

The birds don’t need ALL your seeds!!

Side Note: According to, “sunflower seeds may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar as they contain vitamin E, magnesium, protein, linoleic fatty acids and several plant compounds.”


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