At this time of year many of us are longing for a sign of leaves and shoots that tells us spring is on its way. Some plants may begin to put out green shoots this month, such as crocus and Snowdrops. And some of us may cautiously cut a few branches of our forsythia or crabapples to force indoors for a burst of color, fragrance and promise. But there is another way to bring fresh greenery into our homes.
Microgreens can add a touch of magic to your kitchen. Not only are they a nutrient-dense superfood, they are colorful, easy to grow and can look beautiful on a countertop or window ledge.
Microgreens grow quickly and easily, and can be used to add visual appeal and bright flavors to your winter meals. Some sources say microgreens are not sprouts. Other sources call sprouts microgreens. To me, it doesn’t really matter. Microgreens are mix of flavors that turn a simple salad into a gourmet offering. And they can be produced quickly and easily. That’s what’s best to know!
A sprout is a germinated seed with a root. It has a cotyledon, or seed leaf, but not true leaves. The cotyledon helps split the seed open as it germinates and is packed with nutrients. Sprouts are grown without soil or other growing medium and don’t even require light. The entire sprout is eaten.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil; they need light and ventilation, and only the stem and leaves are eaten. They have a cotyledon as well, but can be left to develop true leaves or foliage, which look like the leaves of the mature plant. Technically, a microgreen is up to two inches tall and baby greens are three to six inches tall. But who wants to be technical?
Producing lovely small leaves with a variety of colors and flavors is the goal. And it can be done easily. All you need is a container, some potting soil or seed mix, a spray bottle and seeds. There are special packets of seeds available for growing microgreens and you might want to start with some of those. They are less likely to have coatings on the seeds. Organic seeds from quality producers are also a good choice.
Some microgreens are easier to grow than others. Good ones to start with are radish— with pretty red stems and spicy flavor — and arugula, which is also spicy. Two of my favorites micors are pea and sunflower. Usually called “shoots,” which simply means an older sprout cut from the seed, both are very productive and store extremely well. Sunflower shoots have a nutty flavor; pea taste just like young peas.
Lots of research is available touting the nutritious nature of microgreens. Let me simply say here that studies in scientific journals claim microgreens offer anywhere from four to forty times the nutrient value ounce for ounce of the mature plants. I particularly loved learning that sunflower shoots are rich in vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” another great justification for the plant’s name.
To grow your own microgreens, spread moist potting soil at least one inch deep in clean seed trays or plant saucers with holes drilled in them for drainage. You can also use the clamshell containers you just bought with baby greens inside, or find more aesthetically pleasing kits online. Scatter seeds fairly densely and cover with a thin layer of potting soil. Mist with water and do so daily to keep the soil moist but not soggy. In one to two weeks you will have microgreens that you can harvest by cutting with a sharp knife close to the soil.
Use your microgreens in salads, sandwiches, wraps and omelets or as garnishes. Or you can simply enjoy having a beautiful tray or bowl of greens to admire. Better yet, be admired for your green thumb and tasty meals. Bon appétit!