How to Harvest and Roast (in shell) 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.

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


  • 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.

roasted-sunflower-seeds-method-1 roasted-sunflower-seeds-method-2

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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  • 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.


    • Elise Bauer

      Hi GS, I’ve roasted sunflower seeds this way so many times without an issue, and have never encountered the “nothing inside” issue that you did. No idea what happened. I haven’t had to dry the seeds first, as they are ready when they come out easily and the squirrels start eating them. I can tell you that if you crack open a shell after boiling and roasting and there is nothing inside of it, there was nothing there to begin with.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jean, it hasn’t really been much of an issue for me, but if you are seeing small pieces of the flower I would try to remove them before boiling them. Interesting idea on the rolling pin, I haven’t tried that!

  • 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.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Melissa, everyone’s oven is a little different. You really do need to pay attention and adjust to what works best for your oven.

  • Karen

    This recipe is simple and to the point of how to roast sunflower seeds. The content is easy to read and just about everyone will understand it.
    It would have been a plus to see just how it is done, though. By way of step-by-step pictures or a short video. Visuals help a lot of people.
    I would have liked it better if the author had added a quick comment on how to season the sunflower seeds.

  • Hunter

    Thank you this was great information

  • Stephanie

    How to flavor (store bought, already roasted, unsalted, in shell) seeds with cheddar powder, dill powder, etc?


    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Stephanie! I’d recommend tossing the seeds with a little olive oil then with the spice mix you’d like to use, and then toasting them briefly in the oven. I know they’re already toasted, but I think even a quick 5 minute toast will help the spices stick. Enjoy!

  • Sarah T.

    Wonderful. I added a bit of garlic salt and they tasted great!!!


  • Brenda

    I’ve been looking for a salt and vinegar sunflower seed recipe in the shell. Can you help me?

    • DONNA

      If you want a good vinegar flavor, use powdered malic acid. It’s the acid from fruit. It won’t take much. The vinegar powder I’ve used is cut with dextrose and is very weak.

  • Faith Lane

    Hello, I’m harvesting my first sunflowers soon, and how do I know if they’re ready? Have some with very dark purple shells, not sure if they’re ready?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Faith, if they are practically falling out of the sunflower, they are ready. Also, you can pull one out, crack it open and eat it raw to test.

  • donna

    save at least 10 seeds to start plants again next year. i have a hard time starting them. my plants have been in our family over 150 years.

    • Sue Abram

      My husband planted 3 sunflowers last year, they was over 8ft high and the sunflowers was huge. So this he planted more and they was huge as well weighing 9.7 lb sunflower with very large and meaty seed that i will soon roast..

  • Sharon

    Has anyone tried making flavored sunflower seeds?

  • Caleb

    Not sure what kind of sunflower plant I have at my grandmas house hope they are mammoth and how do you make smaller ones roasted? Thanks

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Caleb, it’s not really worth it to roast the seeds from smaller sunflowers, they’re too hard to eat! Best to leave them for the birds (and squirrels). But, if you wanted to, you probably only need to roast them for a few minutes.

  • Jeb

    How long will these keep if sealed in FoodSaver bags and kept in a cool dry place away from the sun???

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jeb, well I’m still eating my sunflower seeds from last season, which is almost a year ago, and they were kept in an open bowl. So I’m guessing for a while.

      • Jeb

        Awesome. Doing 8 cups of seeds now and that’s only about a third of what we had growing…

  • Betty Russell

    is there anything we can do with the boiled water (juice) to make some kind of oil?

  • George

    I soaked my seeds overnight in a bowl of saltwater
    Then I roasted them in the oven at 250 F for two hours, and they came out perfect.
    No worries about burning them when using a lower temperature.

    • Kmbio

      Roasted mine at 300f for about 40mins…also perfect :) good medium time balance without fear of burning.

    • Miles "Pigpen" Albert Nelson

      Yeah George’s method is much better. At 400F you get uneven results, mostly hard shells with mushy hearts or hard shells with crispy hearts. Soak overnight and roast at 250F.

  • Micah

    I just harvested my sunflower seeds, is there a way to make them have a flavor like big sunflower seeds, if so thanks

    • Caleb

      Yes if you have a sharp needle and some vanilla extract or some other extract

  • Jake

    I want to plant a sun flower as a project and eat the seeds what seed do I get? Can I use the ones u eat? And is it to late now to plant it? Plz reply thx!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jake, great questions. When to plant sort of depends on where you live. Here in Sacramento, California, now is the time to plant sunflower seeds (raw, in the shell). You want to plant a “mammoth” variety, so you get a big sunflower with lots of seeds. You might want to go to a nursery and buy a small mammoth sunflower that has already started to grow, and then just transplant it into the garden. My best advice is to ask someone who works at a local nursery what will work best for where you live!

  • Angela

    My Kindergarten class is growing Mammoth Sunflower Plants and I had no idea how to cook them! Thank you so much for this! Do I have to let them dry out before I boil them??

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Angela, no need to dry them before you boil them. Have fun!

  • Kit

    I cut my sunflower heads last fall and left them to dry. The seeds are quite edible. Do you have any experience with roasting them after they’ve been drying all winter?

  • paul

    I bought some Sunflower seeds for feeding parrots in my back garden. Didn’t realise they were salted and the birds wouldn’t touch them. Says something?

    • Elise Bauer

      If they were salted, they were also likely cooked, another factor in making them less interesting to the birds.

      • Sue

        My birds will eat any sunflower given to them. Salted, cooked, raw…doesn’t matter. It’s more in what your birds are used to, what they’ve been given while growing up. Mine have always had a huge variety of everything safe for them.

  • Chris

    When I was a child, my older cousin gave me a book called The Kid’s Kitchen Take Over. One of the activities was growing sunflowers. I didn’t have a backyard until 25 years later. I started growing sunflowers immediately, but never harvested. Today, at age 44, I finally harvested them, and roasted them! They needed a lot more salt, I think, but they are quite pleasant. Thanks!

  • Louisa Sargent

    I have roasted my sunflower seeds but they are quite chewy & I end up with a mouthful of chewy pulpy stuff which seems inedible- what did I do wrong? I roasted them for about 25 mins at 180°.

    • Elise Bauer

      The recipe calls for roasting them at 400°F not 180°, and for less time. Unless you did 180°C? Try 205°C for less time.

      • Louisa Sargent

        Yes, I did 180°. Will try different timings next time thankyou.

    • Ed Sisson

      Louisa, are you cracking the seed and removing the shell? The meat inside is very edible.


  • Prashant Rai

    Where can i buy thes flower seeds ?

    • Elise Bauer

      I don’t think you can easily buy raw, in-shell sunflower seeds. This recipe is aimed at people who may have backyard gardens where they are growing large sunflowers.

      • C.T.

        You can buy almost any type of sunflower seeds at Product is reasonable, freight can get up there, enjoy!

  • Sherri

    what do you think about soaking the head in water and salt and then roasting. and then pick seeds off to eat.

    • paul

      try watering in dissolved potassium chloride into the soil while they are flowering?

  • Elise Bauer

    You can try. I can tell you that using that method, the salt will not permeate the seeds.

  • Tracy

    How long will the seeds last in an airtight container?

  • shaylee

    well im 13 years old and I planted sunflower seeds and they turne white seeds in steade can I still roast or cook the plzzz anwers need help!!!!!

    • Bear

      They’re not ripe yet, give them a little while longer til they start to turn black like the sunflower seeds you see on the ground or in the store.

  • Sarah

    The tiny birds eat everything from my feeder except the too-big-for-them sunflower seeds, so I have random sunflowers from the cast-offs growing all over my yard. I’m excited to have something to try with them, besides just enjoying the view. Thanks!

  • Dawn

    I’m just wondering why you boiled them first? I know that you can buy raw sunflowers seeds…any benefit to boiling?


    • Elise Bauer

      That’s how you get the salt to infuse to the seeds. If you don’t want them salted, you can skip the boiling. Just roast them for a few minutes (less than if you are starting with seeds that are soaked through from the boiling.)

    • Christy

      Could be small worms mixed with seeds