Debunking the Myth of Poisonous Sunflowers

Pollen laden bee takes flight from sunflower bumblebee
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Despite rumors that cheery, bright sunflowers are poisonous, there's no truth to the claim. Sunflowers are not only perfectly safe for humans, but also non-toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, according to the ASPCA. Therefore, if your pet starts to chomp on your carefully cultivated garden sunflowers—or if it happens to find some growing in the wild—you can rest assured that no harm will befall.

However, some people report experiencing contact dermatitis when handling sunflowers. If this is the case, you might develop a red, itchy rash.

How to Use Sunflowers

Not only are sunflowers not poisonous, but the flowers can be used in a variety of applications beyond simply sprucing up a garden or, in the case of a cut arrangement, a room in your home. From stem to petal, sunflowers can be used in a number of culinary applications.

  • Sprouts: At the beginning of a sunflower's life cycle, you can pick the sprouts and use them as microgreens. The sprouts are high in zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E. To grow sunflower sprouts, soak black-shelled sunflower seeds for 24 hours, and then plant them in a shallow container filled with soil.
  • Roots: Here's where another myth comes into play. The roots of sunflower are often touted to be Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes or sunroots. However, these are actually the root of Helianthus tuberosus, a related plant. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, also have edible roots, though, and can be chopped up and steeped in hot water to make tea.
  • Stalks: Chop up the stalks of a young, tender plant and add them to salads for a celery-like flavor. The stalks are best from young plants, as mature sunflowers have woodier, less appetizing stalks.
  • Leaves: Sunflower leaves can be used like other types of greens. Wash them, remove the tough center ribs, and use the greens in a salad or stir-fry. The leaves can also be steamed like greens and seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Petals: Sunflower petals are completely edible, but they don't have the best of flavors. Many people consider the petals of a sunflower to taste bitter, but they can add a depth of flavor and a boost of color in raw dishes, such as a salad. Additionally, when the sunflower is in a bud stage, it can be harvested and eaten. Take off the bitter green around the bottom and then steam the entire bud.
  • Seeds: When a sunflower head turns yellow or brown (versus green), the disc on the back will be full of seeds to harvest. Cut the stem about an inch below the head and put it in a dry place. Rub the seeds from the head using your hands, blow off the chaff, and let the seeds dry before storing them in an airtight container for two to three months in the pantry. You can roast the sunflower seeds by soaking them in water overnight and then spreading the seeds on a baking sheet and baking them at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes. You can also grind the sunflower seeds to make sunflower seed butter, a popular alternative to peanut butter that works well for those with nut allergies.