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If you have been to the farmers market, grocery store or several local restaurants this year, chances are you have seen microgeens. You may be curious what these tiny, edible plants are, or what makes them different from sprouts. Maybe you have tried to grow them at home or want to but are not sure how to do it safely and correctly and what seeds to choose.FoodHero.org provides basic information on microgreens and you can find more information on research being done regarding cancer treatment and the use of microgreens at Oregon State University.Microgreens are tasty, nutrient dense vegetables that you can easily grow at home. They differ from sprouts in that you grow them in soil or a potting medium as opposed to sprouts that you grow without the use of soil.Microgreens are ready to eat once they have developed their cotyledon or first leaves, but some people let them grow their first set of “true leaves” before harvesting.When harvesting microgreens, they are cut just above the soil, whereas sprouts are consumed in their entirety since they grow without a soil medium.With both sprouts and microgreens, you can first soak the seeds overnight. This is not necessary but can help with even germination. Organic seeds are best, as some seeds have additives that help with germination rates. After soaking the seeds overnight, they can be sprinkled evenly over a layer of soil or growing medium (some use hemp or coconut coir mats) and pressed down gently.Shallow containers work well like clean, recycled berry or lettuce containers. Make sure to poke holes for drainage in the bottom of the container and for air flow.Once your seed layer is established, spray them with water just enough to dampen but not soak. Keep covered until your seeds start to sprout which could be anywhere from 24-72 hours. During that time, keep spraying them carefully not to overwater them.Once the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the cover and allow them access to light. Placing a tray in a window or under a grow light will work, making sure to rotate the tray to allow even light distribution to all the seedlings. Once your seedlings are the desired length, which can be anywhere between 3 and 6 inches or so, they are ready to harvest!Make sure you have clean, sharp scissors and cut the seedlings at the base, just above the soil. Rinse your microgreens to remove any excess soil that may be on them and store them in a clean, airtight container in the refrigerator.Eat them as soon as possible to avoid spoilage. Microgreens are a delicious addition to sandwiches, rice bowls, tacos, and salads, but get creative! They do not need to be cooked and will become soggy if they are cooked, so enjoy them raw.Studies are being conducted on the nutrient density of microgreens. One study from Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is looking at an ingredient in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or kale called sulforaphane and how it may be used in cancer prevention treatments.Dr. Emily Ho says, “We were surprised to see a decrease in markers of cell growth, which means these compounds may help slow cancer cell growth,” which means it may help slow down cancer cells. Dr. Ho found that by using broccoli microgreens and drying them, then encapsulating them, participants could consume a smaller amount and see the same results as consuming several cups of mature broccoli each day.For more information on this study, you can search Oregonstate.edu for Dr. Emily Ho at the Linus Pauling Institute.If you are interested in trying microgreens, head to the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market each Saturday in Roseburg where you will find several vendors with them or look for them at your local grocery store.You can purchase seeds at several stores to try growing them on your own for a fast, fun experiment that you can do in your kitchen.
Erin Maidlow is the Farm to School Program educator and regional education and procurement hub lead for the Farm to School Program at Douglas County Oregon State University Extension. She loves eating and growing microgreens and teaching students how to grow their own.
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