How to Harvest and Roast (in shell) Sunflower Seeds

SnackKid-friendlySunflower Seed

Growing sunflowers? How to harvest and roast the sunflower seeds from your sunflowers.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Looking out my living room window one afternoon I saw the strangest sight, a squirrel, about 8 feet off the ground, upside down, with his tail sticking straight up in the air.

Quietly walking closer to investigate, I found that the squirrel had climbed up one of my tall sunflower plants, the top of which was bending over due to the weight of the squirrel, who, clutching the plant stalk with his hind legs, now greedily was digging into the sunflower flower to eat the ripening seeds.

Oh, where is the camera when you need it? By the time I had retrieved mine, the squirrel was already heading down the plant.

Squirrel on Sunflower Plant

But that did get me thinking, why leave all the sunflower seeds to the squirrels? The sunflower variety the squirrel was enjoying produces small seeds, too small for me to bother with.

But I had other sunflowers, the mammoth variety, which produces big seeds, the kind that can easily be roasted.

Reveal sunflower seeds in sunflower

By the time I got around to it, the squirrels and birds had already eaten all the seeds from every flower except one. The seeds were clearly visible, I pulled one out to check to make sure the size was big enough, cracked it open and ate the raw seed inside. Perfect!

I then placed the flower head on a table (outside, it’s rather messy) and rubbed out as many of the big seeds as I could. This would be a fun activity to do with kids if you grow big sunflowers in your garden.

I then boiled the seeds in salted water, drained them, laid them out in a roasting pan, and roasted them.

The question that you may have, and I certainly did, is, is there any way to easily shell the seeds, so you don’t have to go through the painstaking process yourself for each nibble?

There is, but it requires expensive commercial machinery. Oh well. The good news is that in-shell, these seeds are hard to overeat! You have to work for it.

How to Harvest and Roast (in shell) Sunflower Seeds Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Makes one cup of roasted sunflower seeds.

If you grow your own sunflowers, the flowers will tell you when they are ready. They'll be droopy, and the petals around the center will be dried. The seeds should be clearly visible.

The best seeds for eating come from the larger varieties of sunflowers.

Just cut away the flower head from the stalk, place the flower head on a flat surface, and rub the center to dislodge the seeds from the flower. If squirrels and birds can get to these seeds, so can you!

These directions are for salted, roasted sunflower seeds. If you don't want them salted, just rinse them off and roast them. Because they aren't soaked through with water, they'll roast much more quickly, perhaps only a few minutes at 400°F.


  • 1 cup raw in-shell sunflower seeds
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt, or 2 Tbsp table salt*
  • 1 quart water

* Add more or less salt to taste, up to 1/4 cup Kosher salt for 1 quart of water.


1 Boil sunflower seeds in salted water: Place sunflower seeds, salt, and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2 Spread seeds on a sheet pan on roast: Drain the water from the seeds and spread the seeds out in a single layer in a sheet pan. Place in a 400°F oven on the top rack and roast for 10 to 15 minutes.

Starting at about 10 minutes, I recommend taking a few out of the oven to test. If they are not roasted yet to your satisfaction, return them to the oven for another 2 to 5 minutes.

Keep checking every few minutes until they are dry enough and roasted to your satisfaction.

The seeds can quickly go from done (dry and easy to bite to open) to charred (browned on outside and black on the inside). So as the time gets closer, keep an eye on it.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

66 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Aryl

    I love this recipe, but site has sooooo many ads and videos, that it’s super annoying. Keeps locking up my screen. Glad people are making money, but no fun.


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  2. GS

    This was terrible advice. Followed instructions step by step, same temps, seeds seemed perfect, exact times…after baking we cracked open a ton of seeds and there was nothing inside (even though they had something inside them before and after boiling. Not sure what happened, however did some sound advice from somewhere else. The seeds need to be completely dried out before attempting anything with them (boiling in salt water and then roasting). Wasted a beautiful head of seeds, so now waiting for my next few sunflowers to finish dropping their petals and drooping over before collecting those ones and starting again.

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  3. Tom.

    Boil them for several hours in salt water till shell gets soft.
    Then roast them and you do not need to bother with shell peeling. Eat it whole with shells, they changed constitution, they are crispy and tasty now. Unpeeled the seeds are even more delicious.

  4. JEAN

    Do you call the seeds before the prep? Mine came out with small pieces of flower. Does that need to be sorted out, or do you just avoid it when eating? I also saw an article that said you can use a rolling pin on the seeds then put in water. Shells will float to the top and seeds will sink, if you want to she’ll them without equipment.

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  5. Melissa

    I super appreciate this top rated recipe because I’ve never tried this before. However, 400° on the top rack is a little too hot imo. Just be cautious. Thank goodness I was paying close attention and lowered the rack to the middle. Overall, pleased with the end results after adding a dash of common sense.

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How to Harvest and Roast (in shell) Sunflower Seeds