Three bowls of microgreen salads

Are Microgreens and Baby Greens Super-Good for You?

These days, more and more “baby” veggies are popping up in produce sections—and little cuties called microgreens and baby greens are currently topping the popularity chart. While they’re small, these infants of the garden pack a big punch of flavor. They’re also billed as superfoods, outshining their grown-up versions when it comes to nutrition.

They’re beautiful, too, adding a splash of red, green, yellow, and purple to your plate. So it’s no wonder that foodies are buying them (and growing them at home) like crazy. If you haven’t jumped on this trend yet, you may be wondering if these little greens really deserve all the hype they’re getting. Today, I’ll take a look at that question—and then I’ll share some tips for growing them yourself at home.

So… what are microgreens and baby greens?

First, let’s talk vocabulary. Both terms—microgreens and baby greens—are names created by marketers rather than farmers. In general, here’s what they mean:

  • Microgreens: These little guys earn their name as soon as they develop their first leaves, called cotyledons. (These proto-leaves are actually present in embryo form within the seed before it germinates.) From this stage until just after they develop their first “true” leaves, they’re considered microgreens. As a rule of thumb, microgreens are harvested by the time they’re two weeks old.
  • Baby greens: These basically are greens harvested before they’re fully grown. They have at least one set of true leaves, but they’re much smaller than mature plants.
Dozens of veggies that you love in their full-grown forms are available as microgreens or baby greens as well. Here are some of the most popular ones: 
  • Amaranth
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Beet greens
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chia
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Garden Cress
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce (any type)
  • Mint
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard greens
  • Orach (French spinach)
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Radish greens
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower
  • Tatsoi
  • Watercress

One reason people love these little greens is that they’re so versatile. You can use them as a garnish, toss them into salads, add them to smoothies, stir them into “zoodles” or other pasta substitutes (they go great with all the pasta swaps here), sprinkle them inside lettuce wraps, mix them into scrambled eggs, use them in sushi, or just nibble on a handful. The possibilities are endless.

Do these greens deserve their superfood status?

The word on these veggies is that they pack a ton of nutrition into a tiny package. But is that really true?  In a word—yes! And that’s especially true for microgreens. In one study, researchers found that microgreens contain levels of nutrients 4 to 40 times higher than the levels in adult greens. (Wow.)  Another study detected a total of 164 polyphenols—powerful plant micronutrients—in microgreens from the Brassica family. (Popular Brassica microgreens and baby greens include cabbage, mizuna, and mustard.)

Want still more awesomeness? Different microgreens contain different nutrients, so you get an extra boost of nutrition when you mix-and-match them. For instance, red cabbage, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens boast the most vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Cilantro microgreens, on the other hand are the richest in lutein and beta-carotene.

As for baby greens, as a general rule, they have fewer nutrients than microgreens but significantly more than mature greens.  For example, research shows that 3 ounces of arugula microgreens supply up to 61 percent of your daily need for vitamin C, while the same amount of baby arugula supplies 20 percent, and mature arugula supplies just over 7 percent.

Try growing your own!

Growing baby greens, of course, is just as easy as growing adult greens. Just plant seeds or seedings in your garden, and harvest your plants when they’re still small. And growing microgreens is a cinch as well. Here’s how to do it:

  • Make sure your seeds are organic, certified to be pathogen-free, and labeled “for sprouting,” Use use sterile soil, and make sure all your growing equipment is sterile as well. (The easiest and cheapest way to make sure you have everything you need is to buy a microgreen growing kit.) If you make your own planter, make sure it has adequate drainage and a drainage pan to go under it.
  • Presoak your seeds overnight if the instructions specify this. Soaking them in a mix of 1/3 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1-2/3 cups water will help to prevent the growth of mold or other pathogens.
  • Drain the seeds carefully after soaking.
  • Sprinkle your seeds over your soil and press down on them gently.
  • Mist your seeds with water once or twice a day, being careful not to overwater them. You want them damp, not swimming!
  • Cover the seeds with a clear top. If you use a kit, it will come with a top. Otherwise, you can use plastic wrap with holes poked in it.
  • Place your sprouts in a sunny spot indoors, and be patient. It’ll take them a couple of weeks to be table-ready.
  • To harvest your microgreens, wait until they develop their first set of “true” leaves and then snip them with sterilized scissors just above the soil. Wash the greens gently in a fine mesh strainer. Dry on paper towels and use right away.

How easy—and fun— is that? So pop some baby greens in your garden, or start a little microgreen garden in your kitchen. Then add a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, and you’ll load your cells with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. It really is true… good things come in small packages!

Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!