Driving home the other day I noticed the sunflowers I had been starting to see were now in full bloom. The bright yellow blossoms line the road to my house, as they do on many Kansas roads.
Looking at them I began to wonder. Surely, there is something you can do with those flowers. When I got home, I Googled uses for sunflowers. While I was sure you could make soap or something like that out of them, I was surprised to learn the petals on the flowers are edible, sometimes even used as a garnish on a salad.
Upon further investigation I found a recipe for Sunflower Jelly.
I set out with my measuring cup in hand and began to pick enough petals for my first batch of sunflower jelly. This was a much less painful process than the blackberries I’d picked earlier in the summer. No thorns, no scratches and no bleeding. It doesn’t take long to gather enough petals.
Be cautious in your picking though because there also are Black-Eyed Susans in bloom right now and they look a lot like sunflowers. One way to tell the difference is by the leaves. According to Larry Crouse, K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent, the sunflower has heart-shaped leaves, while Black-Eyed Susans are long and slender. In addition, he said the Black-Eyed Susan (rudbeckia) also has a raised black center to the flower; it always has a black, or very dark, center; and it doesn’t develop the big seed load like a sunflower.
Once collected rinse the leaves and put them in a jar. To make the jelly, you pour 2 1/2 cups of boiling water over the 2 cups of petals and zest from one lemon, cover that with a saucer or lid and let it steep for two hours. Then strain the water off of the mixture and put in a pan. Add one box of pectin and a quarter cup of bottled lemon juice, then bring that to a boil. Once boiling, add 3 1/2 cups of sugar. Stirring constantly, bring that to a boil and let boil one minute. You can then fill your sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes.
* Note: Despite having the lemons, do not use fresh squeezed lemon juice in the jelly. I have read in other methods of preserving not to use fresh squeeze but rather bottled because it has a consistent acidity which is needed for canning.
After first tasting the jelly, I made the comment that “it tastes like summer.” I look forward to opening a jar when the temperatures are below freezing and there is snow on the ground, just to bring back just a bit of summer.
I also wanted to save some of those sunflower petals, so I collected more and dried them for about 12 hours on my dehydrator then sealed them in baggies for soaps and other uses.
I will research more this winter when canning season is over and I’m looking for something to do.
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!
Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at firstname.lastname@example.org and some will be featured in upcoming columns.