Popular these days with healthy eaters, foodies and chefs, the dinky veggies, which are harvested between a fortnight and month after germination, are extra-nutritious, wonderfully aromatic and full of delicious concentrated flavour.
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Pretty much any edible plant can be grown from seed DIY-style with ease and harvested early, but the tastiest and most nutritious microgreens include red cabbage, beetroot, coriander, kale, rocket, pak choi, pea, radish, red sorrel and amaranth, as well as good old-fashioned mustard cress of course.
Tiny powerhouses of goodness, microgreens pack a potent nutritional punch for their diminutive size. "Compared to equivalent mature crops, microgreens tend to have higher concentrations of vital nutrients essential for good health,” says Sioned Quirke, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
In fact, a 2012 study from the University of Maryland in the US found the little leafy veg can contain up to 40 times more nutrients than older plants. For instance, red cabbage microgreens were found to have 40 times more vitamin E and six times more vitamin C than their mature counterparts, while coriander microgreens had three times more beta-carotene than the fully grown equivalent.
In addition to vitamins E and C and beta-carotene, microgreens can contain vitamins A and K, antioxidants such as lutein, not to mention small amounts of fibre and essential dietary minerals including iron, potassium and copper. These nutrients are key to maintaining optimum health inside and out, and play a role in preventing disease, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and a number of cancers.
Another distinct nutritional advantage of microgreens is that they're usually eaten very soon after harvesting, which means they retain far more nutrients than say, a bag of supermarket salad leaves or bunch of mature greens that has been sitting in cold storage for a while. By growing microgreens yourself, you get all the benefits of vegetables fresh from the farm even if you live in a large town or city. And thanks to their concentrated flavour, you can also use microgreens as seasoning to cut down on salt, an added health bonus.
Grow your own microgreens
Fortunately, you don't have to be Alan Titchmarsh or especially green-fingered at all to grow your own, nor do you require a garden or greenhouse. Perfect for gardening novices, microgreens call for zero skill and very little equipment and space to cultivate successfully. You can snap up quality seeds from your local garden centre or via the internet. Reputable suppliers include Unwins, Sowseeds, Marshalls and Johnsons. Or, if you don’t want to grow from seeds, try the Saga Garden Centre's ready-to-use plants.
These suppliers also sell special grow trays, but you can use any shallow waterproof container you have lying around at home. It really is that simple. You don't even need soil. Organic compost is preferable, but damp kitchen towel, cotton wool or even a flannel for nostalgia's sake will suffice as a growing medium.
All you then have to do is scatter your chosen seeds evenly on the growing medium, cover with a thin layer of compost if using, and pop the container on a sunny windowsill, south-facing ideally. It helps if you soak the seeds overnight before you sow, but this isn't essential. If sunlight is at a premium in winter or if you lack windowsill space, a cheap grow light can be used. Mist regularly, making sure your seeds do not dry out et voilà. Within two to four weeks, your nutrition-loaded microgreens will be ready to harvest.
Snipping the microgreens with kitchen scissors is the best way to do this. After you've washed your microgreens thoroughly in fresh cool water, they can be used as a garnish to jazz up both savoury and sweet dishes, tossed in salads, whizzed up in pesto, salsa verde or similar fresh herby sauces, blended in smoothies, or added to sandwiches. You really won't regret growing the nutritious little wonders.