9 superfoods you can grow yourself
From quinoa to chia seeds and goji berries, make these nutrition superstars super local by growing them in your home or garden..
I’ve been known to go on and on (and on) about trendy superfoods – and how local foods are no less heroic than those grown in exotic places. Goji berries may be fashionable, but blueberries are badass and have a smaller carbon footprint since they didn’t travel across the globe to get to you.
Now I’m taking the “local heroes” angle even further. Grow them at home! It doesn’t get much more local than your windowsill or back yard. There are loads of superfoods you can raise all by yourself. The following list isn't intended as a definitive guide to all the dirty details, more of a first stop to see where you might be able to go. But since I've done my homework, I've included instruction in some places, and suggestions for where to go for more information in others.
1. Goji berriesMiriam/CC BY 2.0 OK, I was harping on goji berries above, but that's just the goji berries grown in China, which is most of them. But as it turns out they are easy to grow right in the U.S. – those ones are great! They are drought tolerant, container adaptable, and can take part shade; and they can be grown in zones 3 through 10. A goji plant is pictured top, and there's a great how-to here:
2. MicrogreensBlaine Horrocks/flickr/CC BY 2.0 The wee edible greens (salad greens, herbs, flowers, and other vegetables) that are harvested after the first true leaf stage, microgreens range in size from one to three inches long, including the stem and leaves, and have been the darling of food enthusiasts for some time. They offer little punches of compact flavor and no shortage of cuteness. Plus this: research has shown than many of these perky little greens have more vitamins and healthful nutrients than their fully grown counterparts. Kapow! All you need is soil, seeds, a container and a sunny spot in your home ... and then, a new crop every seven to 14 days.
Here's a good little video introduction; and they're actually so easy you don't need much more than this:
3. Chia seeds and sproutsWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 Before chia seeds became the "It" seeds, I found myself devouring the coat of a Chia Pet. I thought I was so novel, but then researched to see if I should send myself to the ER, only to find that people have been eating chia since forever. As I wrote at the time (in 2008):
A little research later and I learned that chia seeds were a staple of Aztec and Native American diets. But what really left me with an astonished “huh?” is that chia seed oil contains an extraordinarily high percentage (63 percent) of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid. Who knew? Our Chia Pets would be growing superfood fur. A quick trip to the FAQ section of Chia Pet maker, Joseph Enterprises’ web site and bingo: “Joseph Enterprises’ Chia seeds are not treated with any chemicals or fertilizers.”
You don't have to grow your chia on a terra cotta kitten, but if you have one laying fallow in the closet, bring that little pet out and put it to work! You can also use an unglazed terra cotta plant liner or plate. Here's a how to in case you've lost your ch-ch-ch-Chia Pet instructions. You can eat the delicious peppery sprouts straight; for seeds, dry the pods and remove the seeds.
Jai79/CC BY 2.0 I would have never thought about growing quinoa until a commenter mentioned how easy it was to grow at home. And sure enough, while it appears to be a tough crop to grow in the U.S. on a commercial basis, plenty of home gardeners seem to have had a lot of success. Here's a good overview from Heirloom Organics, and there is a lot of good information and visuals here:
5. KaleMargaret Badore/CC BY 2.0 It wouldn't be a story on superfoods without mentioning kale! Included in our round-up of 6 easy spring vegetables, Derek writes that kale is an excellent vegetable that is easy to grow from seed and can grow a lot of food with not a lot of effort. "Kale can be dense and crinkly, such as 'dinosaur' kale, or flatter and more ruffle-y, such as the red Russian varieties, and is often sweeter as a baby green in the spring, and then again late in fall after the first frost," he notes, adding that he has harvested baby kale leaves in as little as three weeks, with full-sized leaves maturing in anywhere from 40 to 60 days, depending on the variety.
Mother Earth News notes that this super-nutritious green is one of the easiest to grow of the cabbage crops and can be harvested in spring, fall and often well into winter. No wonder it's so trendy. Learn more at All About Growing Kale and Collards.
6. Sprouts© Ariene Studio Because you can grow them in a jar, need I say more? I will any way. Sprouts can be grown easily and quickly in any climate and don’t rely on soil or sun. They require few resources and create no waste. Plus they have tremendous health benefits and don’t require cooking. Plus, if the idea of alfalfa sprouts leaves you shuddering with 1970s flashbacks, consider this: You can also sprout radish, lentils, mustard, soy beans, beets, peas, broccoli, sunflower and wheat berries, to name just a few.
I've already written all about the magic of turning seeds into food in a vessel here: Grow your own sprouts in a jar.
7. Sweet potatoesHolgersFotografie/CC BY 2.0There are so many nutritional workhouse fruits and vegetables one can grow, but sweet potatoes stand out for a few reasons. They've been ranked as the most nutritional vegetable around by some sources and they are seriously packed with vitamins – they are a top source of vitamin A – minerals, fiber and antioxidants. But in addition to all of their healthful exuberance and deliciousness, they are interesting to grow. Rodale's Organic Life notes:
In the garden, on a trellis, or in a container, sweet potatoes are a beautiful plant—delicious tubers in the fall are an added bonus to the lovely foliage and flowers.Sweet potatoes grow well in a sunny vegetable garden, but you can also grow them in other parts of your home landscape. Try them as a temporary ground cover or a trailing houseplant. In a patio planter, a sweet potato vine will form a beautiful foliage plant that you can harvest roots from in fall.Plus: 18 unexpected ways recipes for sweet potatoes.
8. OreganoFor a while oregano held the crown as the food with the highest antioxidant value of all. While science seems to disagree with itself a lot and I'm not sure if oregano has been thrown off its throne, it is nonetheless a super duper superfood and should be eaten all the time. (Call me hyperbolic, I know, it's just that I love oregano – the way is makes roasted red peppers and all things Mediterranean sing is sublime.)So grow some oregano! The kitchn describes it as a go-to for the first-time gardener, noting that:
It is a "garden anchor" that comes back every spring, providing height and dimension within the garden. Oregano also grows well in containers, so if you live in a high-rise apartment or have a limited growing space, it is a great option. Oregano also performs well indoors, when given enough light and warmth.So you basically have no excuses. And if you really don't like oregano, all herbs have beneficial properties; pick your favorite – grow, eat, repeat.
9. Sunflower seedsPublic Domain/Public Domain Sunflowers are a native species that like to grow in just about all zones. They are hardy and drought-tolerant; they are just about the happiest flower in town, plus, they give forth sunflower seeds! Sunflower seeds are chock full of magnesium, copper, and vitamins E and B1 – and whatever you don't harvest will be a delicious gift to local wildlife. Once your big bright babies have grown up, here's what The Old Farmer's Almanac recommends:
To harvest seeds, keep an eye out for ripeness. The back of the flower head will turn from green to yellow and the bracts will begin to dry and turn brown; this happens about 30 to 45 days after bloom and seed moisture is about 35%. Generally, when the head turns brown on the back, seeds are usually ready for harvest.Cut the head off the plant (about 4 inches below the flower head) and remove the seeds with your fingers or a fork.To protect the seeds from birds, you can cover the flowers with a light fabric such as cheesecloth and a rubber band.Or, you can cut the flower head early and hang the heads upside down until they seeds are dry; hang indoors or in a place that's safe from birds and mice.And don't have to limit yourself to seeds from sunflowers, here are more you can harvest from your garden while you're at it: 7 super seeds to add to your diet.