Waȟčázi sú / Sunflower seed

Waníyetu wóečhuŋ/ winter projects.

This is another entry in my series of winter projects.

Wahčázi sú kiŋ / the seeds of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) are one of my favorite Indigenous North American traditional foods that many people don’t realize originate in the Americas. Then and now, they’re an important source of food and oil. The ones we use for those 2 things have been bred by Indigenous farmers to have much bigger seeds than their wild cousins.

While it’s possible to get food/oil from wild sunflowers, that is an extremely labor-intense process that probably consumes more calories than it produces. (Yes, I’ve tried it, but that’s another story for another time — the cliffs notes version is that that they are very tiny, I’d be lucky to get about a tablespoon of useable seeds for each hour spent picking through seedheads and sunflower detritus, and I would not recommend this except in extreme survival circumstances.)

Back to this particular waníyetu wóečhuŋ: The sunflower seed heads from my garden had been carefully hung on the walls in a spot where mice could not climb to find and eat them (they are especially attracted to these seeds). 


Over the past few months of winter, the sunflower seedheads had finally dried out enough to process and bag, to save for spring planting and sharing. While this could have been a fall task, fall is a pretty busy time in the lives of people who work with plants and seeds — and plus, I learned my lesson years ago by making the mistake of putting seeds into storage bags when they aren’t fully dry yet (warning: nasty mold).

Mistakes made this time around:
-Going too fast. (I got splinters — there are some pretty sharp parts in the seedheads!)
-Not sorting carefully enough, and saving nonviable seeds. (If you pay attention, you’ll notice that fertile seeds — the ones that will produce viable plants — are thicker, and won’t bend).
-Not labeling my sunflowers in the garden. (Major seed saver mistake. While I could describe the sunflowers physically, I didn’t save the info…luckily, I was only growing these for the pollinators, and I don’t have any rare varieties!)
-Underestimating the time this task would take. (This process takes a LONG time. And with the mice circling hungrily, I had to get it done and stored. I had to put away a number of still-unprocessed seedheads…hopefully I’ll be able to use them in a seed-saving class I’m teaching soon.) 


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