What Are Microgreens? Types, How-To’s, Uses & Risks – The Ultimate Cheat Sheet

Ever wondered, what are microgreens? We thought the same thing! They’re a young type of vegetable green that are grown until they are 1-3 inches tall. 

These plants can be grown indoors and outdoors in a mix of different ways. Each variety is edible and has strong, concentrated flavors which are full of vitamins and nutrients.

I spent far too many hours researching to fully understand them. I thought only 13 types existed, but there’s actually 87… and counting! 

Here’s the ultimate guide plus everything you’d want to know about tasty microgreen houseplants.

Table of Contents

Sprouts vs Microgreens vs Baby Greens: What Are the Differences?

Question: “So what are microgreens, really? What’s special about them?” 

Answer: They’re a controlled stage of a vegetable plant’s life cycle. 

Some people think they are entirely different plants. But it’s better to think of them as stages of growth.

Sprouts are seeds that have germinated. Harvesting takes place slightly earlier than microgreens, around 1-7 days. 

Microgreens are the next stage of growth after the seeds have germinated. Cotyledon, or small leaves, will begin to form. You can harvest between 7-21 days. 

Baby greens are the stage of growth that comes after. Noticeable leaves will have formed and can harvest between 15-40 days.

Summary: Sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens are stages of growth. Looking at the leaves, or lack of them, is a great way to tell what stage your plants are in. 

Question: “Are some types more popular than others?”

Answer: No, not really.

Microgreens are popular for three reasons. First, they hardly take up any space to grow, whether big or small. Second, they’re super easy to grow and beginner friendly. Third, they look beautiful in a kitchen and you can eat them! 

I gathered together a short list of the 13 most popular:

rocket leaves on white background
  1. Arugula

beetroot sprouts in container

2. Beets

basil microgreen close up

3. Basil

swiss chard microgreen

4. Chard

alfalfa sprouts white background

5. Alfalfa

cress microgreen up close

6. Cress

amaranth microgreens grown in coir mat

7. Amaranth

spinach microgreens up close

8. Spinach

mustard microgreens in black container

9. Mustard

kale sprouts close up

10. Daikon Kale

side view of radish sprouts

11. Radish

pea sprouts in black container with pebbles

12. Peas

red cabbage sprouts on table

13. Red Cabbage

Summary: Microgreens are easy to grow, maintain, harvest, and use. They’re excellent for beginners and they make a home or kitchen pop with color and freshness. 

How Do I Grow On My Own?

Question: “What does it take to grow them?”

Answer: They can be grown indoors or outdoors. Can be grown with or without soil. Hardly need any space. And best of all, they’re very inexpensive to grow.

1: Find good quality, organic seeds. (Some packages may have pre-planting instructions)

2: Make sure to have a container on hand that can hold at least 2-3 inches of soil.

  1. A plastic gardening tray, fruit container, single-use aluminum tray, takeout containers, etc. 
  2. Ensure you poke holes in the container to make sure the water can drain.
  3. To avoid a mess, place a semi-wet paper towel on the tray bottom or a plate underneath to catch water that drains out.

3: Have a good source of light, ideally for 12-16 hours per day.

  1. Place the tray on a southern windowsill or use an ultraviolet grow light.
  2. If you can’t ensure 12-16 hours of light, don’t worry, your growth time will be a bit slower.

4: Fill up your container with about 1-inch of soil, but don’t compact it down too much.

  1. Use organic compost, potting soil, or a simple single-use coir growing mat for microgreens.

5: Sprinkle your seeds evenly on top of the soil.

  1. For most seed sizes, you can allow for 5-7 seeds per square inch.

6: Take a mister and mist your seeds with water. Then cover with a lid with no holes.

  1. This will allow for the seeds to germinate. It will take a few days depending on the seed size and thickness of the shell.
  2. Check on them everyday and don’t forget to mist to keep them moist.

7: After germination (a few days time), you can remove your lid and expose them to light.

  1. Make sure to check on them everyday and mist them once a day as needed. 

8: Depending on the plant you’ve chosen, your microgreens should take 2-3 weeks until they are ready to harvest.

  1. You’ll know it’s the right time to harvest because you’ll start to see cotyledons, or little leaves, forming. 
  2. After I see this, I usually like to wait a few days to let the leaves break out a BIT more and grow slightly taller. But it’s up to you! 

9: Harvest! 

  1. You can either pull them out of the soil and rinse them off in the sink.
  2. Or use a scissors to cut the stems right above the soil. 
    1. I prefer this method because it’s cleaner that way.

After you harvest, you can’t use the same soil or seeds to grow more; microgreens are a one and done plant. 

Not harvesting on time and letting them grow isn’t a good idea, either.

There won’t be enough nutrients in the soil to sustain all of them. They’ll end up competing against each other for nutrients, airflow will be restricted, and mold will take over – not good. 

Rotate three batches to have a consistent supply of greens. Plant another batch halfway through the most previously planted one. Repeat the process as many times as you please.  

You can easily do this at home using soil and buying all the gear yourself. But having a growing kit or a hydroponic setup will make your life far easier. Plus, it’s super cool!

Summary: These are easy to grow, whether you’re a city dweller or have a big yard. Use soil and follow the steps above if you’re a beginner. Remember to keep everything clean and organic for the best yield. Check out growing kits if you’re having trouble.

How Do They Taste? 

Question: “Ok, I’ve grown my microgreens, but can I really eat them? Are they nutritious?”

Answer: Microgreens are very tasty! Their flavors are way more concentrated and potent compared to fully matured plants. The same is also true for their nutrient content, which is A LOT.

These super greens can contain up to 40 times more nutrients compared to fully grown plants, but they lack the necessary fiber due to how early they are harvested. 

They also have higher than expected levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Generally, they are rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, copper and have high E, C, and K vitamin levels.

I researched the top 87 microgreens to show you how they taste and some of the vitamins and minerals in each:

Summary: While these little plants definitely look great in the kitchen, they’re also massively nutritious and tasty to eat. This is one of the few houseplants that has 2 for 1 benefit.

How to Include in Your Diet?

Question: “What’s the best way to eat microgreens?”

Answer: Honestly, there is no correct answer here. 

My two favorite ways are to eat a handful of them raw or put them on a sandwich. 

Typically they’re used as a garnish. And you’ll see them a lot in fancy restaurants to make a 5-star dish really pop and stand out.

And the good news is that they’re becoming more mainstream and accessible. 

People like to use them in sandwiches, pizzas, wraps, omelets, smoothies, cocktails, salads, burgers, juices, desserts, etc. 

The possibilities are endless!

Summary: If you can eat it, you can put microgreens in it or on it! 

Are They Environmentally Friendly? 

Question: “What are microgreens affect on the environment? Can I grow them in an environmentally conscious way?”

Answer: Absolutely! 

These super plants are low impact and high return. Plus, all the equipment you need is reusable or recyclable. Hydroponic kits are really helpful in this capacity.

Old fruit and vegetable cartons, or a single-use aluminum pie tray/baking pan are perfect. Anything that can hold a few inches of soil and can have holes poked into it will work just fine. 

Furthermore, microgreens don’t need a lot of water, so keep a mister nearby. 

person touching microgreens
Growing microgreens indoors with soil

Spritz your plants every day to keep the soil consistently damp like a moist sponge or washcloth. You won’t need much! 

After harvest, compost whatever’s leftover. You can reuse it for another batch or any of your other houseplants!

Summary: What’s needed to grow these plants is minimal and so is your carbon footprint! 

What Are the Safety Risks?

Question: “What are microgreens safety risks? Should I be worried at all?” 

Answer: No, not all. Be sure to use common sense.

Avoid Nightshade varieties. They produce toxic compounds, called alkaloids. These can make you sick when consumed in large quantities.

Nightshade microgreens include tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. Tobacco, for reference, is also in the nightshade family.

Food poisoning is also something to be aware of, which can manifest as Salmonella and E. Coli.

Avoid this right from the start by following these tips:

  1. Always use quality seeds – organic is better. 
  2. Use growing mediums free of contamination.
  3. Use a clean growing tray or wipe down your hydroponic materials before use.
  4. Harvesting your microgreens at the appropriate time – not too early and not too late! 
  5. Immediately refrigerate what you don’t use.

Summary: Nightshade is the only variety you should outright avoid. After that, use organic and clean materials and keep your space clean. 

How to Store? 

Question: “What are microgreens storage requirements?”


Take these steps to store your greens if you’ve grown a lot:

  1. Rinse off the dirt and dry them using a lettuce towel or paper towel.
    1. Avoid salad spinners. Your greens will get caught in the slits and become destroyed. It’s not fun to clean and you waste your greens for nothing.
  2. Once thoroughly dried, put them in an airtight plastic bag or Tupperware container.
  3. If you can’t get them totally dry before storage, poke a few holes in your bag or container to allow some airflow in and out.
  4. Keep refrigerated at no more than 40° F.
  5. Eat within 10 days.

If you don’t like growing and storing large quantities of greens, grow a small amount. Then cut off what you need for your food for that day.

Summary: Thoroughly rinse, dry, and refrigerate as soon as you harvest. 

There Are 13 Common Microgreen Family Types

Question: “What are microgreens types? Is it one or many?” 

Answer: Any fully grown plant you can eat is a great option for a microgreen.

Herbs, root vegetables, grains, grasses, leafy greens, peas, beans, and certain types of flowers are perfect choices.

Here are some common microgreen family types along with examples:

  1. Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)
    1. Cauliflower
    2. Bok choy
    3. Collard greens
    4. Broccoli
    5. Cabbage
    6. Watercress
    7. Daikon radish
    8. Kale
    9. Arugula
  2. Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
    1. Lettuce
    2. Endive
    3. Sunflower shoots
    4. Artichoke
    5. Dandelion
    6. Chicory
    7. Radicchio
  3. Parsley Family (Apiaceae)
    1. Dill
    2. Carrot
    3. Anise
    4. Cilantro
    5. Parsley
    6. Fennel
    7. Celery
  4. Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae)
    1. Garlic
    2. Chive
    3. Onion
    4. Leek
  5. Amaranth Family (Amaranthaceae)
    1. Amaranth
    2. Quinoa
    3. Swiss chard
    4. Beet
    5. Spinach
  6. Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)
    1. Melon
    2. Gourd
    3. Pumpkin
    4. Cucumber
    5. Squash 
  7. Mint Family (Lamiaceae)
    1. Basil
    2. Lemon balm
    3. Sage
    4. Oregano 
    5. Re shiso
    6. Rosemary 
    7. Mint
  8. Madeira-vine Family (Basellaceae)
    1. Red Malabar spinach
  9. Legume Family (Leguminosae)
    1. Chickpea
    2. Pea tendril
  10. Grass and Cereal Family (Poaceae)
    1. Wheatgrass
    2. Corn
    3. Barley
    4. Rice
    5. Oats 
  11. Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae)
    1. Buckwheat 
    2. Red veined sorrel
  12. Purslane Family (Portulacaceae)
    1. Purslane 
    2. Garland chrysanthemum
  13. Nasturtium Family (Tropaeolaceae)
    1. Nasturtium

Even now we are still discovering more, such as the black garbanzo bean and cantaloupe. So the question, what are microgreens and how many types are there, has a developing answer.

After all, microgreens became a thing in the early 1980s around the San Francisco area. Since then, they’ve exploded in popularity.

Summary: If you can eat a mature plant, then you can grow it as a microgreen.

Microgreens Are Beginner Friendly and Healthy

Microgreens are young, varied, versatile, and easy to grow. But they’re only considered a microgreen if it is an edible vegetable plant. 

Aside from looking great in your kitchen as a decorative houseplant, these little guys pack a nutritional punch. So don’t pass up the chance to eat them as soon as they’re ready! 

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