Natives cultivated sunflowers in North America for centuries before Europeans arrived, according to Jill MacKenzie of the University of Minnesota. You can eat almost the entire sunflower plant and you can enjoy this nutritious food in all its stages of life: from supple seedling to mature and dry. Grow many sunflowers in a patch so you can eat the various edible parts of the plants all summer long.
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Pull seedlings from your sunflower patch while they are about 6 inches tall. You may eat sunflower sprouts straight from the ground, atop salads or in stir-fry. Eating these sprouts is a way to cut down on waste while thinning the number of plants growing in your sunflower patch.
Eat the leaves of older plants alone or in a salad. You can also eat sunflower leaves cooked in stir-fry or boiled like greens and seasoned with salt and vinegar oil. Remove the tough center ribs of leaves before cooking.
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 may steam sunflower buds or boil them in water for a few moments and serve with butter.
Pluck petals from the sunflower once the bud has opened. The edge of the sunflower petal is bitter and not suited for eating in great quantities by itself. Combine with other ingredients to complement and tone down the flavor of sunflower petals. Use these petals in a salad to add a distinctly bittersweet flavor.
Peel young sunflower stalks and cut into bite-sized snacks or toss into salads. Sunflower stalks -- which taste similar to celery -- provide a crunchy texture to salads. Choose immature sunflowers that have pliable, tender stalks that turn their large flowers to face the sun. Avoid older plants with woody stalks.
Pick sunflower heads when the green disc at the back of the flower head turns yellow. Place the flower heads in a dry, well-ventilated place and allow the seeds to mature. You may eat or store the seeds once the disc on the back of the flower head has turned dark brown. Remove seeds by rubbing two heads together or by rubbing the head with the palm of your hand. Eat sunflower seeds raw or after they've been toasted in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes or until the hulls begin to crack open. Cool them and add salt for taste.