The sunflowers in front of Green City Growers’ Somerville office are bright and in bloom, stretching high above the rest of the garden. With their soaring stalks and bright yellow petals, sunflowers bring color to almost any plot of land. But, sunflowers can do more than just add aesthetic appeal; in fact, sunflowers are an entirely edible plant.
From root to leaf, sprout to stalk, you can use your sunflowers to make everything from salads to sunflower tea. Before chowing down, though, make sure the sunflower you’re about to enjoy has been grown organically, without pesticides, or any other toxic substances that might not be so kitchen-friendly.
Once you’ve confirmed your plant is safe to eat, there are plenty of ways to make the most of your sunflower. With a little creativity, you can use all of the following parts of the plant:
Roots – Called “Jerusalem artichokes” or “sunroots,” sunflower roots can be roasted, sliced thin and fried, shredded into slaw, steamed, mashed with potatoes, marinated, or even chopped raw and added into salads.
Sprouts – Once hailed as a salad’s “secret weapon” by The New York Times, sunflower shoots can be used in the same way you might use alfalfa or soybean sprouts. Sunflower sprouts have a taste somewhat similar to sunflower seeds—a slight nuttiness but with more of a fresh, plant-like flavor—that adds an unexpected element to salads and sandwiches.
Stalks – Interestingly, sunflower stalks are the lightest natural substance known to man, with a specific gravity one-eighth that of cork. Science aside, sunflower stalks make great snacks, too. With a satisfying crunch and a taste comparable to celery, the stalks of young sunflowers can be added to salad, or eaten raw with hummus or peanut butter.
Leaves – Sunflower leaves can be used as a greens for salad, boiled in the same way you might cook spinach, or even baked like kale chips. Sunflower leaves have also been used as an herbal supplement, with the leaves steeped to make tea.
Petals – While sunflower petals might make for pretty garnishes, they can actually be used in salads, too, and they add more than just a dash of color. Known for their unique bittersweet taste, they can be used as a compliment to sweeter flavors in your dish.
Seeds – A sunflower is ready to have it seeds eaten when the disk flowers on the back of the plant have turned from green to yellow. While sunflower seeds are often sold in stores, it’s easy to make your own. You can eat them raw, or soak them over night in a salt water and then roast them at 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit, for several hours.