The sunflower, whose official species name is Helianthus annuus, is known for bringing joy. Its yellow petals and large head resemble the sun, hence the name. While you might find a vase of sunflowers on your table or a bag of sunflower seeds on your counter, you might not know that the entire flower is edible. That's right — you can eat sunflowers.
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Certain parts of the sunflower are often compared to artichokes while others are more bitter. If you're curious about eating sunflowers, you may want to give them due to their benefits. Sunflowers have been shown to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, according to September 2020 research in Food Science and Nutrition. They're also full of nutrients.
Here are six ways to enjoy sunflowers from the seeds to the petals.
Can You Eat Sunflowers?
We all know that sunflower seeds are edible. You can buy them at the grocery store or roast your own. They make for a tasty snack and salad topping. This is the most common way to eat sunflowers.
Sunflower petals are also edible. They can be added to salads or used to make tea. They do have a bittersweet taste, though.
Other edible parts of sunflowers include the head, stalks, leaves and buds. There are no poisonous parts, but certain parts of sunflowers have a lot of little hairs that can be irritating.
The oil of sunflowers can be extracted and used in cooking similar to vegetable oil.
1. Add Sunflower Sprouts to Salads and Stir-fries
Pull seedlings from your sunflower patch when they are about 6 inches tall. You can eat the sunflower sprouts straight from the ground, atop salads or in stir-fries.
Use sunflower oil in your stir-fry for an extra dose of sunflower. Eating these sprouts is a way to cut down on waste while thinning the number of plants growing in your sunflower patch.
2. Make Salad or Cook With Sunflower Greens
You can eat the leaves of older plants by themselves or in a mixed salad. You can also eat sunflower leaves cooked in stir-fries or boiled like collard greens and seasoned with salt and vinegar oil. Remove the tough center ribs of leaves before cooking.
3. Steam Sunflower Buds and Serve With Butter
Pick the flowers when they are in the bud stage. The buds taste similar to artichokes. Pull off the bitter green around the bottom of the bud. You can steam sunflower buds or boil them in water for a few minutes and serve with butter.
Another way to eat sunflower buds is to sauté them. Here's how, according to chef Ann Ziata of the Institute of Culinary Education:
- Forage for some green, unopened sunflower buds. Leave a little more than an inch of stem.
- Remove the leaves and boil for 3-5 minutes.
- Drain the buds and discard the water.
- Repeat with a second boil for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the buds are tender.
- Trim off all green bracts and petals with a paring knife. Now you can sauté the whole buds with a little garlic and oil until tender.
Use anywhere you might have an artichoke heart — in salads, pasta and more!
4. Add Sunflower Petals to Salads and Teas
Pluck petals from the sunflower once the bud has opened and use them in salads. The edge of the sunflower petal is bitter and not suited for eating in large quantities by itself. Combine with other ingredients to complement and tone down the flavor of sunflower petals.
You can also make tea with sunflower petals. "Pick unsprayed sunflower petals and brew in hot water for tea, much like chamomile," Ziata says. "The petals have a mild bitterness, so you may wish to sweeten it with a little honey."
Ziata also recommends using sunflower petals as floral garnishes for cakes, salads and goat cheese logs.
5. Roast Sunflower Seeds
The most common way to eat sunflowers is to roast the seeds. Sunflower seeds are a high-protein, low-sugar and cholesterol-free snack. They're also a good source of fiber. Seeds are naturally high in fat and calories, and some varieties of sunflower seeds can be high in sodium, so enjoy in moderation.
Roasted sunflower seeds are easy to make at home. Simply spread them on a cookie sheet and roast at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 to 25 minutes, according to Michigan State University. This is a good option if you want to control the amount of sodium.
6. Grill Sunflower Heads
If you have plans to barbecue in the summer, make some space on the grill for the heads of your sunflowers. This is another common way to eat sunflowers.
"Cut off a giant sunflower head with seeds that are covered with tiny flowers, but not fully hardened seeds. Pick off all petals and rub the tiny flowers off the seeds," Ziata says. "Coat with a strongly flavored oil, like garlic, sun-dried tomato or herb oil. Grill face down until marks form, then cover and grill another 5 minutes until tender."
After grilling the sunflower head, the seeds should come off easily when you touch them. You can treat the grilled sunflower head like corn on the cob — add sea salt, herbs, oil or butter. Use a fork to scrape off the seeds.
If you're up for a challenge, Ziata says you can even bite into the sunflower head like a corn cob.