Aside from adding beauty, sunflowers have a number of uses in the organic garden. These striking, colorful flowers, which come in a wide variety of sizes, grow quite well under organic conditions, and some breeds are capable of reaching heights of six feet or more by summer’s end.
Here are five uses for sunflowers and seeds that may surprise you:
1. Sunflowers Attract Butterflies and Birds
The showy flowers are much beloved by both butterflies and birds for their nectar, and for the latter, their seed heads can also become a source of food later in the year. Now, if you are trying to harvest the seeds be ready for the birds to eat them. To protect the seeds, once the seeds are almost ready to harvest, cover the sunflower head with a paper bag.
2. Sunflowers as Botanical Screens
Given their height and profusion, they also make great botanical screens. For instance, a circle of sunflowers planted around your compost pile will hide it from general view — and your sunflowers will grow up strong and happy from all the nutrients in the compost.
3. Sunflower Seed Coffee
The sunflower seed hulls can be used as a coffee substitute. Brown the seed hulls and grind them. Use 1 teaspoon of hulls per one cup of water and steep for about three minutes. Increase the amount of ground hulls per your desired taste. Sunflower seed coffee sweetens well with honey. For specifics, here’s how to make Sunflower Seed Coffee from Old-Time Country Wisdom & Lore: 1000s of Traditional Skills for Simple Living by Jerry Mack Johnson.
4. Sunflower Seed Flour, Meal, Milk and Paste
Use raw sunflower seeds to make high-protein sunflower seed flour, meal or paste to use in recipes like stuffed dates, pancakes and meatloaf. When grinding sunflower seeds, about one cup of seeds makes one cup of flour. Use sunflower seed meal as a cheaper substitute for almond meal. Some even make sunflower seed milk.
5. Sunflower Shoots and Microgreens
Try sunflower microgreens with sunflower seeds. Popular shoot and microgreen seed varieties are Black Oil and Gray Striped. Sunflower microgreens have a thick texture like spinach and a mild, nutty flavor. Add sunflower shoots to salads, eat on their own or throw in smoothies and recipes. Shoots and microgreens are harvested around 3 to 4 inches tall, and will take about 7 to 14 days to grow. Sunflower shoots/microgreens contain up to 25% protein and are rich in nutrients: amino acids, calcium, chlorophyll, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, B, C and E.
Here’s a PDF on Growing Sunflower Shoots and Instructions: Growing Microgreens in Soil from Oregon State University Extension.
Want to learn more about using sunflowers?
Here are some great resources:
Plant Guide: Annual Sunflower from USDA
Harvesting Handling Sunflowers from University of Illinois Extension
Years ago Wesson Foods sold Sunflower Oil. I used it constantly. Then one day it was off the shelves. I wish it would come back. It was lighter in flavor and color. No after taste
Kate Russell says
I love sunflowers!
And that’s a excellent idea about growing them around the compost pile – I’ll definitely be trying that one on a space that was drowned by a leaking sprinkler. I’ve decided the only way to bring the soil and all its microbes back to life is to use it as my newest compost site. Since it’s clearly visible from the back porch, a circle of sunflowers will be a great botanical barrier (great phrase!).
Sunflowers also make wonderfully magic places for children – you can grow them into mazes, secret clubhouses, or even castles!
Ozark Grandma says
I am trying something I read about this spring, to plant cucumbers with sunflowers. Supposed to make the cukes sweeter and give them some support to vine on.
Yep did that this year. Worked very well as the sun flower provided shade for the cucumber in the hot summer as well as a climbing post. I also had a strong trellis along side the sunflower to which I supported the sunflower.