How to Harvest and Roast Your Own Sunflower Seeds

My Mammoth Sunflowers grew beautifully this year. Planted in May, these graceful giants grew to about ten feet tall. I marvelled as the seeds quickly germinated and grew in quick spurts after every copious Spring rain shower. Their heliotropic nature is interesting to study. As the plant grows, the top always follows the sun and once there is a bud, this heliotropic movement is more noticeable. To me, Sunflowers are happy plants, following the sun across the horizon only to turn back and face east by sunrise. As soon as the yellow petals open, the flower remains facing east.

But it seems the plant only smiles for about five days once the petals have reached their climax by early August and then the head slowly bows. A sad sight for sure. Then I remember that left alone the plant will work one last miracle; the seeds will mature. Once the back of the sunflower head is brown, mine was a tannish yellow, the head can be removed and the seeds harvested for roasting. Try late September, early October, depending on your zone. While living in Germany, I would see people leaving the Sunflower fields with the ripe seed heads, only to set them on the kitchen table to nibble from throughout the day.

I never spray anything on my Sunflowers so we had to share our seeds with other critters such as worms, spiders, and tiny black bugs. None of them ate much and what’s a little protein?

My daughter and I spent about an hour harvesting the seeds being sure to only pick the plump ones. Her tiny fingers were perfect for the job. She also thought it would be a good idea to sing sunshine songs. So we sang “You Are My Sunshine” over and over. Our fingers got pinched a few times with the tiny barbs between the seeds and the flower gives off a strong medicinal but not offensive aroma, especially if you get the sap from the stem on your hands.


After rinsing the seeds 5 times then spinning them dry in my salad spinner, I decided to roast them in my iron skillet. I cooked them over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes with about 5 good pinches of Kosher salt. I knew they were done when they turned a grayish white color and sounded like pebbles in the pan. They were perfectly crisp and salted. I got 6.2 ounces of seeds from one flower head, not a bad harvest.

P.S.– Prior to roasting the seeds, I put aside 7 for next year’s planting.

Have you ever grown Mammoth Sunflowers? Will you now?


  1. Lisa
    Posted October 10, 2008 at 9:13 AM | Permalink

    Wow, what a beauty. I might try that next year.

  2. Larissa
    Posted October 10, 2008 at 3:25 PM | Permalink

    I loved reading about the process of the sunflower seeds. What a great thing to harvest!

  3. That Girl
    Posted October 10, 2008 at 10:54 PM | Permalink

    We had a flower garden and a vegetable garden growing up and each of us kids got to pick one new item a year. I remember the year I picked sunflowers – so bright and sunny. But I also recall them hogging all the light from my little irises!

  4. Grace
    Posted October 11, 2008 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    what a behemoth of a sunflower! mammoth indeed. 🙂 i love that ya’ll sang while picking seeds–charming post, robin sue. 🙂

  5. Alexa
    Posted October 11, 2008 at 10:10 AM | Permalink

    This is a really nice post, Robin Sue. I don’t have a great tract record for growing things that actually live. These sunflowers sound sturdy enough that I might actually try to plant some next spring. My kids would love it, especially the singing part (a must while harvesting).

  6. Rob
    Posted October 11, 2008 at 4:58 PM | Permalink

    Very cool. I’ve always seen you grow these things but I never knew you actually did anything with them! Save some for me! Can you lightly salt mine and toss with chipotle seasoning? Okthanksbye!

  7. Robin Sue
    Posted October 11, 2008 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

    Lisa- Thanks, this is a fun thing to do with the kids.

    Larissa- Thanks so much for the nice comment!

    That Girl- That is so cool that you got to pick your own plant. These monsters do take all the sun!

    Grace- Thanks for the compliment! Singing is a must.

    Alexa- These are easy to grow, I don’t even water them. I only have to keep the chipmonks from digging up the seeds before they germinate!

    Rob- I’ll put some aside for you!

  8. Lori
    Posted October 12, 2008 at 9:06 PM | Permalink

    I did sunflowers when I was little. Unfortunately they had worms at harvest time. I would love to do them with my girls next year but am a little concerned about that happening again. Yours look so good!

  9. RecipeGirl
    Posted October 15, 2008 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

    What a fun and beautiful post! That sounds like a neat activity to do w/ your kiddo. We planted some sunflowers this year and they didn’t grow. Will have to try another spot next year.

  10. [eatingclub] vancouver || js
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 11:47 PM | Permalink

    This is too cool.

  11. TecZ
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 5:17 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing. I appreciated the recipes. I tended 17 beautiful flowers this year and yep grew to about 10 feet. Mammoths are wonderful!

  12. Robin Sue
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 5:04 PM | Permalink

    tecz- Wow ten of them. That is a whole lot of seeds! They are really great!

  13. Anonymous
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 7:21 PM | Permalink

    Im excited to see what they will look like in real life.. I have 22 of the mammoth variety in my backyard now…… I think my husband is kind of worried… however I convinced him that we can ALWAYS have sunflower seeds to munch on if I keep planting them.

    i think 22 may be too much though? I originally germinated 10-12 seeds and planted them. the other seeds I just tossed casually around, all took, save 2 that were eaten by a bird possibly..I had to move a couple of the plants this week to give them room.. luckily they are still babies..only about 6in tall now.
    Thanks for the tips on harvesting..i will look forward to them!

  14. Robin Sue
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 7:25 PM | Permalink

    Anon- That’s a whole lotta seeds you will get to eat! Enjoy! You can give the whole heads away as gifts with the instructions on how to harvest and roast their own!

  15. Anonymous
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 7:22 PM | Permalink

    Good idea about the gift of the sunflower head with instructions.. im sure we will be donating some of those to our friends..

    Update.. our sunflowers are about 2- 2.5 feet tall already.. getting anxious to see them grow and bloom..!

  16. Tiffany
    Posted May 24, 2009 at 3:39 AM | Permalink

    I have about 30 mammoth sunflowers on my property. Most of them are over 6 feet tall now and have beautiful flowers on them. I enjoyed reading your page as I didn’t know what to expect next. I am still wondering how tall they will actually get. They are taller every day!

  17. Robin Sue
    Posted May 24, 2009 at 1:20 PM | Permalink

    Tiffany- My mammouths get to be about 10-12 feet tall! Right now they are only 8 inches tall and I hope they make it past the noses of the deer here. I only had 4 take this time. I have very little sun! Enjoy you will have soooo many seeds! Yum

  18. Anonymous
    Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:54 PM | Permalink

    I planted 6 seeds and they all grew over 10 ft. WOW!! I usually cant grow anything.These are easy for kids or those with a brown thumb and they grow so fast for instant gratification. They are bent over and full of seeds and Im just waiting for them to turn color so I can harvest an roast the seeds. Cant wait.

  19. Anonymous
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:25 AM | Permalink

    My mammoth's grow to over 14 feet tall. I use them as a 'natural' privacy fence for the summer. Every year this little flock of yellow/blue wild canaries or finches (not sure)come to dine on seeds each day. I plant at least 80, but this year the crazy squirrel kept digging up my seeds, so next year I'll start them in pots in the house. When the seeds start maturing, my yard looks like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's movie, the Birds. Between the birds and the squirrels, I can't wait for the seeds to fully mature, because there won't be any left! So I cut a few blossoms off, pop out the seeds and air dry them in the house on cookie sheets. They will turn gray just like they do on the stalk. I put some away for next year in a paper bag, making sure they are completely dry (so no mold grows). I hang them in a cool dry place so they don't attract mice over the winter. The rest are washed and dried for roasting. One blossom produces an average of 2000 seeds for me, so there's plenty here for the wildlife and for me and my family and neighbors.

  20. Anonymous
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 8:54 PM | Permalink

    Glad we found your sight… my 7 year old son grew a mammoth sunflower this year that he recieved from an arbor day event. We entered it in our county fair and he won 2nd prize for largest head!!! We are all so excited!! We are now ready to roast the seeds (and save some for next year), thank-you for your info. and great pics.!!

  21. Anonymous
    Posted October 14, 2009 at 2:48 PM | Permalink

    I tried sunflowers in addition to my sual veggies this eyar and WOW was I glad I did! They were beautiful! Most were about 9-12 feet tall, but I had some that were 4-7 feet also. It was SOOOO fun to harvest them with my family. All 5 of us worked together on something for the first time in YEARS! It was so fun they want a special spot in the yard to do it again next year. How can I resist the chance to spend HOURS with my teens and pre-teens, and my hubby as well?

    Is it ok to harvest and eat the seeds with no black stripe? Some of the LARGE heads had large black pincher bugs in them and others had no black stripes but they all came from the same seed packs.

    THANKS!! Take care… Kris & Family

  22. Robin Sue
    Posted October 14, 2009 at 4:15 PM | Permalink

    Kris- I had a sad year with my mammoth's as the deer ate every one of them. I replanted again and they ate them again. So will try again next year. I have never heard of not being able to eat the ones without the black stripe so I do not know about that. I did get a few bugs and some that I bit open had a little worm- a little extra protein! but 98% were just fine.

  23. sapphire
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 8:16 AM | Permalink

    So can the Mammouth sunflowers grow ten feet in a year? They do that all in one season?!

    I had some sunflowers in our garden when I was a kid. They were so cute and happy. They were only 1-2 feet in height but still smiled!

  24. Roger
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 9:16 PM | Permalink

    Wow… We grew several different varieties of Sunflower this season… We even had an entire row of Mammoth plants this year that grew > 14 ft tall !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Posted June 3, 2012 at 4:16 PM | Permalink

    🙂 I’ve planted 28 so far with more to come. Think that will be enough?

    • Robin Sue
      Posted June 3, 2012 at 9:32 PM | Permalink


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