Harvest of the Month: Microgreens!

microgreensI once told a friend that I was growing microgreens and he said to me, “I bet no one wants to try those- they are everything Americans hate- small and green.” He recommended we go with a serious re-branding if we wanted to have any success. Something in the vein of “Power Snacks” or “Super Fuel.” Even though he was being sarcastic, I could see where he was coming from.  “Power Snacks” does have a certain ring to it! Up until a few years ago, I had never even heard of a microgreen, let alone grown them to sell. So, what are they? Why are they so small? And why should we care? Thanks to Sierra Harvest, 6,500 local students can tell you exactly what microgreens are, and how tasty and nutritious they can be. As part of January’s Harvest of the Month program, students sampled sunflower greens and pea shoots from the Natural Trading Company.

The Natural Trading Company (NTC) farm is on 40 beautiful acres in Newcastle, California. Sitting at about 400 feet in elevation, it is a perfect climate for producing many different products. Growing a diverse selection of vegetables, fruit, wheatgrass, pea shoots, and sunflower greens as well as raising pastured hens who provide eggs; NTC offers their harvest at year round farmers markets and through a community supported agriculture program (or, CSA for short). You can find their greens locally at the Briar Patch Coop, SPD and California Organics.

Microgreens are called such because of their height- usually between 1 and 3 inches when harvested. Many of us are familiar with sprouts- microgreens are essentially the same as a sprout, but grown in soil and cut off at the base. Generally, the microgreen is harvested at the cotelydon or seedling stage (before the first true leaves form) but some varieties are harvested soon thereafter. Typically grown year round in greenhouses, microgreens also have less contamination issues than conventional sprouts.

Popular microgreens include wheatgrass, sunflower, pea, radish, kale, broccoli, red cabbage, cilantro and amaranth to name a few. You may have seen them as a colorful garnish at a fancy restaurant, but that’s no reason to keep them on the side! The nutrient profile of microgreens is so promising, that the USDA did a study in 2012 on 25 types of these tiny greens. According to researcher Zhenlei Xiao, the results were surprising.

“Take cilantro microgreens​, for example, with mature cilantro greens. We found some of the nutrients are surprisingly higher than the mature plants and not only in one specific nutrients, many of the nutrients in many microgreens contained much higher nutrient levels compared to their mature ones.”

Some types of microgreens contained four to six times the vitamin concentration of their mature plants! The Vitamin C concentration of red cabbage was “6-fold higher than previously published data for the mature red cabbage and 2.6 times greater than that recorded in the USDA National Nutrient Database.”

Why are microgreens so nutrient dense?  The USDA study did not explore the reasons, only the nutrients themselves, but researcher Xiao has a few ideas about why they are so good for us. “One is that during the germination stage the cell division is much greater, thus increasing the amount of nutrients in one leaf. It’s almost as if the microgreens are a concentrated version of their adult selves. Another idea is that during the germination stage nutrients are just beginning to be activated and released. “

Scientists may not have figured out exactly why microgreens are so good for us, but they are. And luckily microgreens are tasty, easy to eat, and easy to grow! When purchasing microgreens, look for ones that are darkly pigmented and harvested recently. Keep them in the fridge in a closed container. If possible, buy some that you can cut yourself at home. If you have a sunny windowsill, you can even try growing them yourself.

Here are some fun facts about the Harvest of the Month featured Microgreens:

Sunflower greens are amazingly tasty, tender, and beautiful!

  • Grown from black oil sunflower seeds the sprouts take about 
12 days from seed to green.
  • These little plants are a storehouse of nutrition including 
vitamins A, B, C, and E. an incredible amount of potassium, 
and are high in calcium, magnesium and iron.
  • Full of amino acids and almost 25% protein, sunflower greens 
are considered a superfood!
  • Because they are germinated, the plants stored energy is 
activated, giving you more minerals and vitamins with fewer 
calories than a dry seed.
  • These greens are delicious on their own, on a sandwich and in 


Pea shoots are a powerhouse of vitamin C!

  • A nutritious leaf green with high levels of vitamins C and A. 
One small bag provides your daily requirement for vitamin 
C, vitamin A, and a significant amount of folic acid.
  • These crucial nutrients protect the body from free radicals, 
help keep skin healthy and immune systems strong.
  • Pea shoots offer 7x more vitamin C than blueberries, are low 
in fat, and only 9 calories per 50 gram serving. This shoot is 
simple, delicious, and easy to add to your daily diet
  • Pea shoots have been traditionally used in Asian cuisines 
and were introduced to U.S. farmers markets by Hmong immigrants in the 1970’s.

Microgreens are a versatile and healthy addition to meals- try adding them as a boost to sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, smoothies, or eggs.

For an excellent video, recipe and step by step instruction of how to grow your own microgreens at home, check out: http://www.pbs.org/food/kitchen-vignettes/homegrown-microgreens-salad/


Homegrown Microgreens Salad
Courtesy of: Kitchen Vignettes
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.

For the Salad:

1 cup of microgreens

1 blood orange, peeled and cubed

1/2 avocado, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup of shredded carrot or daikon radish

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the Dressing:

1 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 clove chopped garlic (optional)

A dash of salt and pepper


If your microgreens have some soil on them, give them a light wash and air dry them in a colander for a few moments. (They are very fragile so need to be handled with care).

Place them in a bowl and add the remaining salad ingredients.

Stir up your vinaigrette in a little jar and pour on top of the salad.

Yield: 1-2 servings