Mammoth sunflowers, and they really are, grace our garden every year. In the fall, we save some seeds for planting, some for the winter birds, and the rest go to the goldfinches, who perch on the giant flower heads, perfectly camouflaged, and eat their fill.
Each spring, plump little sunflower sprouts pop up everywhere. We’ve always pulled and tossed them to prepare our garden for planting, but I learned recently that we could be tossing those succulent sprouts into a smoothie, a wrap, or a salad for a tasty and nutritious treat. I laugh out loud at myself (with myself). “Well, for crying out loud,” my grandmother would have said, with a soft chuckle and a sparkle.
In a month or so, when our garden comes to life, I will be trying these. If you want to grow your own, see these tips for sprouting sunflower seeds. Update, July 2011: I have tried these sprouts, now, and they are bitter tasting, like coffee or cacao.
Sunflower seed kernels are also quite healthy. One ounce of seed kernels, a palm-full, has 37% of the daily value of vitamin E, an important anti-oxidant. These seeds are high in pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, B6, and in minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Sunflower seeds are especially high in phosphorus, copper, manganese, and selenium.
Sunflower seed kernels have a glycemic load of zero, so they are great for maintaining stable blood sugar levels. They are also a good source of plant protein, although the protein profile has incomplete lysine. (Lysine is the limiting amino acid.) The seed kernels are mildly inflammatory, so eat them in moderation. A little goes a long way.
We don’t plant our sunflowers in straight rows. Instead, we grow a sunflower house, an idea from a picture book called Sunflower House, by Eve Bunting. When Emma was 4 years old, after reading this book, we planted a large rectangle of mammoth sunflowers, leaving a space for a door. Inside, we placed a small chair, a gift from a gardening friend. (Thank you, Ruthie!) Emma was delighted, and now at seven, she still wants to plant her sunflower house each Spring, so she has a place to play while mommy pulls (eats) the weeds.
In the wintertime, our sunflower seeds fill Emma’s brightly painted birdhouses. They hang in a row along a wooden fence sheltered by arborvitae trees, just outside our kitchen window. Hardy juncos, finches, sparrows, and cardinals flit about the buffet at “bird house row” on cold, snowy days. Acrobatic squirrels also visit, and they’ve made some adjustments, enlarging the doorways to fit their expanding girth, but we don’t mind. We sit in our cozy kitchen in our PJs, watching them while we eat breakfast or a lazy Sunday brunch.
Two other related children’s picture books that we love: Sunflower Sal and The Garden of Happiness.
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Disclaimer—The articles here are not intended as medical, nutritional, or other professional advice. The ideas presented are my own, unless otherwise noted, and are for informational purposes only. Please use this information with discretion.