Saving and Eating Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower drooping and beginning to dry on the field.

Ripened sunflower, ready to harvest seeds.

By Christy Bassett, Homesteader at Barefoot All Natural Farm

Many people grow sunflowers for their beauty alone. Towering over 7 feet tall and following the sun’s rays throughout the day, they certainly capture attention as part of a scenic farm or gardenscape. But sunflowers offer more than aesthetic appeal to the grower. One sunflower head can produce over 1,000 seeds, which can be used for planting, bird feed, livestock supplements or human food.

Sunflower seeds are high in protein, fiber, Vitamin E, Selenium and other essential nutrients. All varieties of sunflowers are edible, but larger, grey and white striped seeds are meatier and tastier than the smaller dark oilseed varieties. After you’ve enjoyed the impressive blooms all summer, try your hand at harvesting the seeds and enjoying a second round of delight from these stately flowers.

How to Save Sunflower Seeds

  1. Allow the sunflower heads to fully ripen, droop and begin to dry on the stalk. Seeds are ready for harvesting when you can visibly see the shell of the seeds throughout the face of the flower and the petals have started to brown.
    • Tip: If birds or rodents begin to eat the seeds before you are ready to harvest them, you can cover the head of the flower with cheesecloth or a paper bag to protect it from scavengers. Just be sure to allow for airflow, or you could end up with a moldy, rotten flower head the next time to check it. Another option is to trim the head from the stalk a bit early and bring it inside to dry before removing the seeds.
      A sunflower head that is not quite dry, with seeds missing from bird foraging

      Wild birds find sunflower seeds irresistible and often consume entire heads before they are ripe enough for harvest.

  2. Trim the flower head from the stalk about 12” from the head. Some people like to dry the head and seeds for a period of time (up to 2 weeks) to allow the seeds to dry out a bit and separate from the head. Others move right away to the next step.
  3. Using your fingers or a fork, rub the face of the flower over a large bowl, loosening the seeds and allowing them to fall into the bowl. Continue removing seeds until the entire face of the flower has been stripped.
  4. Cover the seeds and other bits of debris with cool water.
    • Tip: if you are saving seeds for animal feed or for planting, you can strain the seeds and dry at this point. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container until ready for use.
  5. Add salt (about ¼ cup-½ cup, depending on the volume of seeds/water you’ve accumulated) and stir to combine.
  6. Allow to sit overnight. The salt water will draw out impurities and plump up the seeds for the next steps.
    • Tip: If you’d like to move this process along faster, you can add your sunflower seeds and salted water to a pot and boil on a stovetop. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down and simmer for 60-90 minutes. Allow to cool and move on to the next step.
  7. Strain to remove the sunflower seeds from the water and pick out any visible debris.
  8. Spread sunflower seeds on a paper towel or other flat, absorbent surface and allow to dry completely.
    • Tip: If you are not saving the seeds to eat raw, move onto roasting (or toasting) the sunflower seeds before shelling, as the shells will be easier to remove once they are cooked and brittle.
  9. Remove the shells by rolling a rolling pin over the dried seeds, squashing them with a kitchen mallet, or flattening them with the broad side of a chef’s knife. For easy sorting of the kernel from the shell, place the flattened seeds into a jar of water and pour off the floating debris. Repeat covering with water and pouring off debris until all that’s left are the clean kernels at the bottom of the jar.
  10. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks, or in the refrigerator for prolonged life.

Roasted Sunflower Seeds

Black and grey striped sunflower seeds spread onto a cookie sheet

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Spread sunflower seeds on a cookie sheet in an even layer.
  3. Tip: if desired, add a drizzle of oil, salt and/or other flavoring before roasting
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning halfway through.
  5. Allow to cool and enjoy by crunching the seed between your teeth and spitting out the shell while retaining the kernel for chewing and swallowing. OR…
  6. Remove the shells from the roasted seeds as above and use in other recipes.

Homemade Sunflower Seed Butter (Sunbutter)


  • Roasted, shelled sunflower seeds
  • Salt (if desired)
  • Maple syrup or other sweetener (if desired)


Sunflower seed butter in a small white dish

Fresh sunflower seed butter

  1. Add seeds to a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend on high until a smooth, runny texture is achieved. This can take up to 15 minutes. To avoid burning out the motor in your food processor, blend for 2 minutes at a time and then allow the machine to cool before beginning again.
  3. If you’re having a hard time processing all of the small chunks out of the sunflower seed butter, you may want to add a bit of sunflower oil, which will allow for an easier substance to blend.
  4. Add a pinch of salt and/or a drizzle of maple syrup for flavoring, if desired.
  5. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.