Winter is upon us. The veggies adorning farmers market stands have dwindled. Most produce in local grocery stores and co-ops has flown or trucked for thousands of miles from California, Mexico, New Zealand and beyond.
How can you enjoy an abundant variety of local, nutritious greens year round, even in the depths of winter? Grow your own sprouts! Beginning with organic seeds in mason jars, you can watch peas, mung beans, radishes, and broccoli unfurl before your eyes. Sprouts are nutritious, easy to cultivate in the cold months, and as local as you can get (your own kitchen)! Moreover, Chinese medicine tradition recommends sprouts as especially healthy in the early spring.
By early February the Seattle earth has already begun to awaken from its winter slumber. Look around and you'll see winter snowdrops and even daffodils peeking out of the soil. You can partake in spring's awakening, by sprouting almost any edible vegetable, seed, legume, or nut you choose.
SPROUTING HEALTH BENEFITS
Research suggests that sprouts may be even more nutritious than their mature siblings that we typically consume.
Sprouting improves the bioavailability of a variety of healthful nutrients. For example, one study found that sprouting cowpea legumes increases the vitamin C content by 4-38 times and protein by 9-12%. Other studies corroborate sprouts' vitamin C and protein enrichment, and also show that sprouting can augment the bioavailability of various B vitamins by up to 7 times. Further, because the sprouting process breaks down anti-nutrients (such as phytic acid) that interfere with the absorption of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, sprouting renders these minerals more absorbable.
Even more impressively, sprouting bolsters antioxidants that inhibit the oxidation process in the body and neutralize free radicals, potentially preventing or even reversing some cancers. Notably, broccoli sprouts contain up to 100 times more sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant, than full-grown broccoli. Sulforaphane boasts scores of health benefits including the apoptosis of cancer cells. One promising study looking at the impact of sulforaphane on the treatment of prostate cancer found an 86% slowing of the doubling rate of cancer biomarker Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA).
I recommend choosing sprouting-specific seeds (rather than picking up a random bag of lentils at the grocery store to sprout). This is because growers of sprouting-specific seeds take special care to test and verify their seeds as free of e-coli and other pathogens.
Many local health food stores carry packages of sprouting seeds. You can also order them online from reputable companies. One of my favorite northwest sources is Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon. Sprout People in Madison, Wisconsin has a particularly incredible selection.
SPROUTING SET UP
All you need to begin are seeds, wide mouth quart mason jars, and stainless steel sprouter lids. I recommend placing about three parts cool water to one part seed in a mason jar. For instance I start with 3 tbsp of broccoli sprouts and 9 tbsp water. No need to be exact; just make sure all the seeds are covered. Allow the seeds to soak in the water for around 8 hours. I often allow them to soak while I sleep.
At the end of the soaking time, drain your sprouts by flipping the jar (with your secure sprouter lid) upside down. After the water drains, rinse the seeds with fresh water, swish the water around, and drain again. Next, swirl the jar in your hand to encourage as many seeds as possible to stick to the sides of the jar, which improves germination rate, and reduces the chances of mold.
Then place the jar upside down in a bowl for the day. The key is to visit your sprouts twice during the day to rinse them with fresh water and drain them, returning the jar to its inverted position.
Be sure your seeds have access to sunlight and can breathe. Don't lock them away in a dark cupboard; sunlight (even rays filtered through dense Seattle clouds) is necessary for growth. To allow airflow, it's ideal to choose a sprouter lid that has little legs to stand on. If your lid is legless, simply invert your jar in a bowl so that it rests at a slight diagonal, enabling air to flow through the mesh lid.
In just a day you may begin to see baby sprouts! In three to six days – depending on temperature, sunlight, and desired sprout length – your sprouts will be ready to eat. Such a treat!
After your final rinse, add the sprouts directly to your meal and enjoy! Or, to store for up to a week, first spread your sprouts out on a clean, absorbent towel to air dry for an hour. Then wrap them up in a clean, dry tea towel and store the sprouts (in their cloth blanket) in an airtight glass container.
NUTRITIOUS FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Try growing your own sprouts this February. Kids love getting involved in the growing process. Caring for the sprouts ignites their curiosity and excitement about eating the sprouts as well, ushering in enhanced nutrition for the whole family. Whether delicious toppers to salads and soups, or hearty additions to sandwiches and burritos, sprouts can enhance most any meal. Homegrown sprouts are exceedingly inexpensive to grow, the pinnacle of environmental sustainability (no plastic containers, fertilizer or pesticides), a nutritional mecca, a subtly sweet and crunchy delight, and a joy to watch unfurl. Happy sprouting!
Annie Lindberg is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese medicine practitioner, and Ayurvedic practitioner. She owns and practices at The Point Acupuncture & Ayurveda, located in Madison Park and is a regular Madison Park Times health columnist.