Kids love harvesting seeds from sunflower heads. Photo by bixentro under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
The bigger sunflowers usually make the best size seeds for roasting. Photo by DMswart under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
I grow sunflowers in my garden for beauty, beneficial insects, and wildlife. The bonus is that I can harvest the sunflower heads for myself and roast the seeds. This is another project that your kids can participate in easily. In fact, it’s a great project for kids groups and clubs like 4H, girl and boy scouts, or after school programs. While all sunflowers are beautiful and attract wildlife, usually the best sunflower heads to use are those produced by the bigger sunflowers like Giant Gray Stripe, Sunzilla, and Mammoth.
|Learn more about sunflower varieties and how to grow them in FineGardening.com’s Plantguide…|
|Helianthus annuus and cvs.|
After you cut the flower heads off the stalk, let the heads dry until the front of the heads turn a crispy brown and the back of the heads are yellowish. At this point, you can lay them flat on a covered table and let the kids rub the front of the sunflower heads. The seeds will easily pop out and young kids will be quite entertained.
After they seeds are all out of the flower heads, carefully go through the seed pile and pick out undesirable pieces of stem, etc. For salted seeds in the shell, you’ll need a bowl or other container with a couple of quarts of water. Add about 1/3 – 1/2 cup of table salt to the water, add the sunflower seeds, and let them soak in the salt water overnight. Another way to get the salt onto the shells is to put the salt water and seeds in a pot and let it simmer for 2 hours on the stove. If you’d rather have unsalted seeds, skip this whole section and go straight to roasting.
The next day, drain the salt water from the seeds and lightly dry them with a paper towel. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. *Spread your seeds on a large cookie sheet and let them roast for 30-40 minutes in the oven. You can stir them around after 20 minutes or so, if you’d like. You’ll want to watch for the seeds to become a little brown and looking crisp – or you can pull them out when they just look dry.
Sometimes, you’ll see a little crack on the shells as they roast. The finished product is an individual thing and you may want to experiment with a few batches until you get them to cook they way you enjoy eating them. At this point, pull them out of the oven and let them cool. You can add a little more salt at this time or some people add some melted butter over the top of the seeds after they come out of the oven. I’ve not tried the butter idea, but I’m usually up for anything with added butter – so it sounds right to me. To keep sunflower seeds, once cooled, store them in a tightly sealed jar or container.
Here’s a little bonus information for you. When I eat sunflower seeds it’s usually in front of the TV in the evening; and it’s for hours. Seriously. We always have to vacuum up billions of tiny shells when I’m done. Anyway, because of all the salt I ingest, sometimes I wake up with cramps in my calves. I mentioned this once to husband extraordinaire who proceeded to tell me about a fascinating thing called the “sodium/potassium channel”. I have zero idea how it all works, but the jist is that the sodium (salt) over-rides the potassium and that’s why you get cramps. I probably don’t need to tell you just how much salt I take in on those nights.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV, but the answer is bananas. I eat a banana after eating the seeds and I’ve never had another leg cramp after that at night. Not that you’d ever eat the huge pile of seeds that I do, but hey – just a little wisdom from me to you.
*Only adults should be handling the seeds around the oven.
|More flowers to grow…|
Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and instructional videos sent to your inbox.