How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seed heads mature about three months after sowing the seeds.
Sunflower seed heads mature about three months after sowing the seeds. (Image: pressdigital/iStock/Getty Images)

Annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are not just lovely to look at. These plants also produce lots of edible seeds that make a tasty snack. The seeds are relatively easy to harvest and prepare, if you can keep them safe from hungry bugs, birds and squirrels.

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Cut the Head

When the seeds have fully formed and the backside of the flower head has turned from green to yellow, cut off the head, leaving about 1 foot of stem attached. Take the flower head to a warm, well-ventilated indoor place, tie a piece of cheesecloth around it and hang it upside down by its stem to dry. Drying the seed head normally takes three to four weeks.

Pick Out the Seeds

Hold the dried sunflower seed head over a large bowl and pick out or shake out the seeds. They should come out easily. Store the seeds in a mesh or cheesecloth bag, hung in a warm, dry area that has good air circulation. Make sure you store the seeds where insects and rodents can't get to them. When you are sure the seeds are thoroughly dry, put them in a glass or metal container.

Dry the Seeds on the Plant

You can let the seeds ripen and dry on the plant in the open air. A sunflower’s seed head is fully ripe when the leaves on the back of the head have turned brown. As the seed head nears the ripe stage, cover it with cheesecloth or a mesh bag and tie it around the stem. When the seeds are ripe, they will fall off but will stay in the cover. The covering also helps protect the seeds from wildlife.

Overnight Soaking

Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw but taste better if cured by soaking overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup table salt in 1 quart of water. After soaking, bring the brine with the seeds to a boil, pour off the water and spread the seeds out on paper towels to dry for several hours. Roasting the seeds will further improve their flavor. Spread the seeds evenly on a metal cookie sheet and roast them in an oven set at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours.

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