Raw sunflower seeds are those which have been picked straight from the plant with the shell still around the kernel and have not gone through any sort of processing. These should not be confused with the salted kernels that are sold in packages after being shelled and processed. Sunflower seeds generally come with the shell, which can be eaten, but is usually not since the kernel itself has the meat and nutrients.
If you want to eat sunflower seeds straight, then they will need to be salted and roasted, especially if you want them to last. First, remove the kernels from the shells. To remove the kernels, lightly smash the seeds with the cooking mallet to loosen the shells, and then either pry them off individually, or let the seeds soak in water and stir them--the shells will float up as they come off. Let the kernals soak overnight in a mixture of 1 part water to 1/2 part salt. Spread out the kernels onto a baking pan and bake slowly at 200 degrees. This will take about five hours, but keep checking. When done, the seeds should be dry and ready for storage and eating.
If you have a presser or another type of oil extractor, you may want to try extracting sunflower oil from the seeds. The seeds should first be shelled and thoroughly cleaned, but they do not need to be roasted. This is a light and healthy oil with mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and can be used like any other kind of vegetable oil. You may also consider making sunflower seed butter. This is created by grinding the seeds then combining them with canola oil and a natural sweetener like honey.
Many people choose to sprout raw sunflower seeds instead of roasting. While you will still end up eating the sprouted seeds, they must go through an additional step first. Instructions for sprouting vary, but you should start by soaking the seeds in water, using about 1 cup of seeds for every 1/4 gallon of water. Leave them in the water for two to three days, until the sprouts have begun to form. The seeds can then be taken out of the water and left in a damp, clean place to finish growing, or left in the water and mixed with other seeds to keep growing for four or five more days. The sprouts have a watercress-like taste and are richer in vitamins and proteins than the seed variety. They can be used on salads or as a garnish, and may be frozen for later use.
New Plants and Birdseed
Raw sunflower seeds can also be used to grow new sunflower plants, if you have the garden space and live in a climate that is hospitable to the plants. Some people prefer to use sunflower seeds as birdseed, since many birds love the rich kernels and will dig them out of the shells themselves, saving you the trouble of shelling the seeds.