Gardening: The intensity of flavour and health benefits of micro greens
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Now that there is less to do in the garden, I've been thinking of inventive ways to continue to potter and idle away a few relaxing hours while up to my elbows in compost.
At this time of year I'm usually growing winter vegetables in the form of the usual hoary old stagers like sprouts, parsnips and huge beets that Baldrick would be proud of, or planting bulbs and half hardy annuals.
Most of these will only come to fruition next year.
What I've reminded myself of recently is the absolute pleasure of growing and eating micro greens.
Even if you have no garden whatsoever, you will be able to grow not only delicious but super healthy and distinctly flavoured salad ingredients.
These can be grown on a windowsill or most places indoors.
They are so simple to grow you can propagate them on cotton wool like primary school children do.
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I'm not encouraging the mass growth of mustard and cress, but the idea is the same.
All micro greens are in fact are seedlings of anything edible, just harvested when they are very young.
The beauty of this is that they are packed with vitamins at such an early stage in their development and more often than not you can detect strong flavours too.
This is more prevalent in some plants than others.
Most herbs work well here and particularly something peppery and difficult to buy in the supermarkets like Thai basil.
When you do find it anywhere it's ridiculously expensive but then again I'm someone who baulks at £3 for an ice cream - flake is extra!
Not that long ago, I was fortunate enough to have saved up enough to go a Michelin-starred restaurant locally where they had these purple cuttings scattered on every salad.
It lifted the salad to a completely different level, so much so that even my daughter was munching away like an undisturbed rabbit.
In fact, all types of basil are a good fit and can be harvested when their first leaves appear.
The trick is not to leave them much longer or they actually become a plant quite quickly and you miss out on the intensity of flavour and health benefits.
Basil at this age is spicy and flavoured of aniseed so that bit of heat will work wonders in the kitchen.
The colours of green and purple remind me of Wimbledon on a plate even if it might be mid-December.
It’s not just basil that retains its flavour in miniature form either.
Think of any of the herbs you use in the kitchen and when harvested at the size of cress or smaller, can look and taste amazing.
Try using up any left over herb seed you might have from summer and plant them in multi-purpose compost before getting the kitchen scissors out and sprinkling on your usual salad.
Coriander, chives, dill parsley and oregano have all been used in our house to good effect.
Another reason I like doing this is that you can garden indoors all year round and there is no winter break.
This is particularly relevant for those people who rely on gardening in order to maintain good enough mental health.
An old stager on the allotment told me that you can actually grow sweetcorn in this way, but it needs to be grown in the dark and harvested at the size of a pin and used to top a dessert.
I might try this in secret just in case he was pulling my leg.
It might appear extreme but I've taken this approach with a herb called ‘stevia’ that is reputed to be 300 times sweeter than sugar.
In my shed/laboratory it didn't really seem like it but when it was grown as a micro green it tasted like the hundreds and thousands you get on reasonably priced ice cream.