Sunflowers: Growing Tips and Recipes with Sunflower Seeds

Recipes for sunflower pancakes, candy, and protein loaf, along with growing and harvesting tips.

  • sunflowers
    Glorious sunflowers are garden gold.

  • sunflowers

I'll bet that half of all the folks who tended gardens this year raised sunflowers. Unfortunately, I can also safely wager that relatively few of those growers will actually use their sky-scraping flowers (which, apparently, have been cultivated strictly for ornamental value). What a waste!

Sunflower seeds contain 55% protein (almost as much, by weight, as steak) and considerable quantities of B vitamins ... plus calcium, phosphorus, iron, nitrogen, and vitamins A and E. As an added bonus for weight watchers, the plant's seeds test out at only 48 calories per tablespoon (as opposed to 85 calories for the same amount of peanuts .. sorry about that, Jimmy Carter).

The petals and seeds of the sunflower can be turned into natural dyes, and the empty seed hulls are sometimes used as a coffee substitute. German pipe smokers occasionally even dry the plant's leaves and use them for tobacco. And, if you're a weaver, you probably already know that the stalks of the sunflower when treated like flax will yield silk-like fibers that are tough enough to work with.

In short, if you grew sunflowers this year "just for the fun of it", the real fun is about to begin!

Now's the time to wrap the big, nodding heads on your sunflowers with cheesecloth or to slip mesh bags down over them (to protect the seed-loaded tops from snack-loving birds). Or, if the seeds are large enough, you can simply cut off the heads leaving about two feet of stem attached to them-and hang the heavy "plates" upside down in a well-ventilated attic or other non-humid place.

When the backs of the heads have turned completely brown and there's no trace of green left, the seeds have fully matured and are ready to be removed. Some folks coax them off with a stiff-wire brush, fish scaler, or similar tool. But if you're working with more than just a few flowers, you May want to stretch and nail a piece of half-inch-mesh hardware cloth over a wooden box, and gently rub the flower heads over the screen. The seeds will fall through the mesh and collect in the container.

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