There’s something undeniably endearing about tiny living things. Aside from puppies and kittens, the plant world has its share too: Bonsai, terrariums, microgreens – the diminutive versions of big plants are not only ideal for adding green to small spaces, but they’re irrestistably cute.
Microgreens are the Lilliputian edible greens (salad greens, herbs, flowers, and other vegetables) that are harvested after the first true leaf stage. They range in size from one to three inches long, including the stem and leaves, and have been the darling of upscale chefs and spunky home cooks for some time. They're perfect for adding compact flavor and a bit of whimsy.
And now the first scientific analysis of nutrients in edible microgreens has found that many of these trendy greens have more vitamins and healthful nutrients than their fully grown counterparts. Hurray! The research appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Despite their growing popularity, no scientific studies had previously examined how nutrients in microgreens compare to those in mature plants. To the rescue: Qin Wang, Gene E. Lester and colleagues analyzed vitamins and other phytochemicals in 25 varieties of microgreens.
They found that microgreens generally have higher concentrations of healthful vitamins and carotenoids than their mature counterparts. Red cabbage microgreens took the prize for the highest concentration of vitamin C, while green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E. They found that levels of vitamins and carotenoids in popcorn shoots and golden pea tendrils were low compared to other microgreens, but were still as high as some common mature vegetables.
With a maximum growing time of 14 days, microgreens are easy for even the blackest of thumbs to grow, and in the tiniest of spaces. New York City artist Jenna Spevack's experiments with apartment-sized farming (pictured above) show us how the greens can even be grown in and around furniture.
Crops that germinate easily and grow quickly include cabbage, beet, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, radish, swiss chard, and amaranth. As many as 80–100 crops and crop varieties have reportedly been used as microgreens. Others that have been used include carrot, cress, arugula, basil, onion, chive, broccoli, fennel, lemongrass, popcorn, buckwheat, spinach, sweet pea, and celery.
To grow your own tiny powerhouse crops, see You Grow Girl's guide to growing food on a windowsill.