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Sprouts - The Superfood of the 21st Century

By Pauline Lloyd

What is a Sprout?

Edward Cairney in his book The Sprouters Handbook defines asprout as 'the transitional stage between seed and plant'. But to put it even more simply, a sprout is simply a baby plant. For the first few days of its life a baby plant - or sprout - is not capable of feeding itself and is sustained entirely on nutrients contained in the seed, the equivalent of mother's milk. These nutrients only become usable when the seed starts to sprout. During sprouting, the seed's enzymes convert stored inactive nutrients into a sort of nutritional superfuel which allows the sprout to grow very rapidly during the early days of its life. Proteins are thus converted into amino acids by enzymes known as proteases, fats into essential fatty acids by lipases and starches into simple sugars by amylases. Sprouts are essentially a pre-digested food, the seed's own enzymes having already done most of the hard work.

Why Eat Sprouts?

The Benefits:

  1. Very cheap to produce - Sprouts are an excellent food for paupers!
  2. Quickly and easily produced- Some kinds of sprouts are ready for eating in just one day.
  3. No preparation or cooking needed -Most sprouts can be eaten raw. And there's no need to cut them up or peel them either.
  4. Very nutritious - Sprouts are simply bursting with vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of chlorophyll which is said to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is even supposed to restore the colour to greying hair! And raw sprouts are an excellent source of plant enzymes, making them very easy to digest. Plant enzymes, incidentally, are also supposed to keep you looking young!
  5. They're fresh and alive - Forget the wilted, shop-bought lettuce next time you want to make a salad! Sprouts can be grown quickly and easily in a jar on your kitchen windowsill. All you have to do is to remove a handful from the jar when you want to eat them. They're organically grown too.
  6. Good source of fibre and protein
  7. They have cleansing properties - Helping to neutralise and remove waste from the body. The fibre in them also helps to keep you regular.
  8. Anti-Cancer Properties - Many sprouted seeds and grains seem to have anti-cancer properties too. Consequently sprouts are often used to treat this disease. Red clover, for example, contains genistein - an anti-cancer compound which is also present in soya beans, black beans and peanuts.

How To Sprout

There are several methods of sprouting, the most commonly used method being the jar method. However, many types of seeds can also be sprouted in trays, or grown in punnets on pieces of damp paper kitchen towel. Sprouts grow best at a temperature of about 21 degrees C (70 degrees F).

1. The Jar Method

It's possible to purchase special sprouting jars (see mail order section below) but these can be quite expensive and so if you are on a tight budget, you might like to make your own instead. To do this you will need a supply of clean, empty jam jars, some elastic bands and about half a metre of muslin (also known as cheesecloth) which can be purchased in curtain or drapery shops for about £3.99 per metre. Cut the muslin into squares - large enough to cover the top of the jar and allowing at least a one inch overlap all the way round the jar.

Note: If you can't acquire any muslin, jars can also be covered with nylon mesh instead. This is available from gardening shops and can also be used in the tray method of sprouting described later on. Another possibility is to use pieces of fine-meshed net curtain. Jars can also be arranged in a row on your work surface and covered with a clean tea towel, but you will then need to use a sieve every time you rinse your sprouts.


  • Place your seed in the jar. (For a normal size jam jar try using about 1 tablespoon of seed.) Next fill the jar with water and replace the lid. Leave the seeds to soak for the required amount of time - see table below.Tip:It's often quite convenient to leave seeds to soak overnight.

  • After soaking remove the lid and fasten a piece of muslin in place over the top of the jar, using either an elastic band or a piece of string. Carefully pour off the soak water. Rinse the seeds with fresh water, then pour off the water again.

  • Upturn the jar, leaving it at a 45 degree angle (in an old saucer perhaps) for about two minutes in order to allow any excess water to drain off.

  • Place the jar in a pleasant position - on your work surface or on a windowsill perhaps - but not in full sun as this will stress the sprouts and cause them to dry them out too quickly.

  • Rinse and drain the sprouts once a day - perhaps twice/day in summer when it is hot. Continue to rinse and drain daily, until your sprouts are ready to eat.

2. The Tray Method

For this method you will need some seed trays with and without drainage holes, (obtainable from gardening shops) some jam jars (or a bowl) to soak seeds in, a plant spray and some nylon mesh. If germinating very small seeds, such as alfalfa, line the tray with damp kitchen towels.

  • Place the seeds in the jar/bowl and fill with water. Leave the seeds to soak for required amount of time - see chart below.

  • Pour the seeds into a sieve and rinse well.

  • Line a seed tray with nylon mesh (this is used to aid drainage) and sprinkle on the soaked seeds. Place the first tray inside a larger, hole-free tray to catch any drainage water.

  • Place the trays in a warm, dark place and leave to sprout. Spray with water once or twice/day until your sprouts are ready. Place the tray in daylight for at least a few hours before eating your sprouts, so that they will develop chlorophyll and go green.

3. Growing Salad Greens

Equipment as mentioned in 2. above, plus a small amount of soil or seed potting compost. This method is used to grow sunflower, wheat or buckwheat greens.

  • Soak seeds as described in tray method above.

  • Rinse the seeds in a sieve and place them in a glass jar. Leave to sprout for one day - see jar method for more information.

  • Next place about 2cm of soil in the garden tray and water it to make it damp. Distribute the seeds evenly over the surface of the soil - they can be touching but not piled up on top of one another. Finally, cover the seeds with a thin layer of fresh soil/compost and lightly water again to ensure that it is damp.

  • Spray daily to keep the soil damp. Your greens should be ready for harvesting in about a week. Cut them with scissors and wash them well to remove any soil. Used soil mats can be composted.

  • If you prefer not to use soil in your kitchen, many salad greens can easily be grown in punnets instead. Simply sprinkle the soaked seeds into a punnet lined with a piece of folded, damp kitchen towel and spray regularly to keep the paper towel damp. Mustard, cress and rape are all suitable for growing in punnets in this way.

4. Growing Wheatgrass For Juicing

Wheatgrass juice is a remarkable, very nutritious drink, full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and an excellent source of chlorophyll. It's easy to digest, costs only a few pence a day to produce and can often be tolerated by people who are normally intolerant to wheat. Like sprouts it is easily produced at home, either being grown in a tray on unbleached paper towels or in a small amount of soil. Wheatgrass has valuable medicinal properties - restoring health, increasing energy levels and offering protection against radiation and x-rays. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, can boost the immune system and has been used to treat candida infections and arthritis. If you would like to grow some read on!


  • Place 1 cup of whole organic wheat in a sprouting jar, fill with water and leave to soak overnight. (Note: If you are using jam jars, you may need to use more than one jar.)

  • Rinse and drain the wheat and allow to sprout in the jar(s) for 24 hours.

  • Next, if you are using paper towels put several layers in the bottom of a plastic serving tray (these can be purchased in supermarkets and hardware stores) dampening the paper with a spray bottle. Alternatively, if using soil, spread a layer of soil about 2 cm thick on the bottom of the tray and dampen it in a similar manner.

  • Empty the wheat onto the damp paper (or soil) and spread out evenly and if using soil, sprinkle a thin layer of soil over the top of the wheat and redampen with the spray. Cover with another tray. This will keep the heat and moisture in.

  • After two days check to see if the wheat is drying out and spray again if necessary. When the wheat is 1-2 cm tall, remove the top tray and put the wheat in semi-shade - not direct sunlight - to grow. Spray with water regularly to keep the substrate damp. If you are using the paper towel method, after day five some natural seaweed fertiliser (e.g. SM3 available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue) can be added to the spray to provide extra nutrients.

  • If grown on paper the wheatgrass should be ready in 7-10 days, or if using soil in 10-15 days. When ready, cut the wheatgrass with scissors or a sharp knife. The wheatgrass can then be juiced, using a special juicer e.g. the Porket manual juicer, sold by The FRESH Network for £36.90, including postage. Recommended dose is approx. 4-6 tablespoons of wheatgrass taken daily, either by itself or mixed in with other juices. Don't over do it though, as wheatgrass has a strong cleansing effect!

What To Sprout?

It's possible to sprout many types of beans and pulses, cereal grains, nuts and seeds. Just see what's on offer in the sprouting chart below! Many of these seeds can be purchased fairly cheaply and easily, either from a health food store or from a supermarket or wholefood co-op. However, some of the more unusual types of sprouting seeds (e.g. cereals) are often only available by mail order - see list of mail order suppliers at the end article. When purchasing seeds for sprouting try to buy organic seeds whenever possible. And don't use seeds purchased to be grown in gardens, as these are often treated with chemicals.

Name Soak Time Length Days Main Nutrients Method Used
Aduki 24 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-5 Vit C and iron Jar or tray method
Alfalfa 8 hrs 0.25-2cm 2-5 Vits A, B, C, E, K and minerals Jar or tray method
Almond 8 hrs No shoot produced 1 Vits B, E, good source of calcium and protein Jar or tray method
Barley 12-15 hrs Root length of seed 3-4 B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals Jar or tray method
Black-eyed Beans 24 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-5 Vits A, C and minerals Jar or tray method
Buckwheat 12 hrs Not applicable 1 Vits B, C and minerals, lecithin Leave to sprout for one day, then grow as for salad greens, in trays with soil.
Cabbage 8 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-5 Vits A, C, U Jar method, best mixed with milder sprouts such as alfalfa.
Chick Peas 18 hrs - change water 2-3 times 0.5-1cm 2-4 Vits A, C and minerals, particularly calcium Jar or tray method
Fenugreek 8 hrs 0.5-1cm 2-4 Vits A, C, iron and phosphorous Jar or tray method.
Green Peas 12 hrs 0.5-1cm 2-3 Vits A, B, C. Rich in protein and fibre. Jar method, but worth trying it out in trays if you want a lot.
Haricot Beans 12 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-4 Vits B, C and minerals Jar method
Lentils 12 hrs 0.5-1cm 2-4 Vit C, iron Jar or tray method. Try all types of whole lentils.
Millet 12-15 hrs 0.75cm 3-4 Vit B2, B3 and iron and other minerals Jar method
Mung 24 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-5 Vit C, iron, potassium Jar or tray method. Best grown in dark.
Mustard 8 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-7 Vits A, C, minerals and chlorophyll Grow in a jar, mixed with milder sprouts. Or in punnets on damp paper towels.
Oats 12 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-3 Vits B, E and minerals Jar or tray method. Use whole sprouting oats
Peanuts 8 hrs 0-0.5cm 1 Vits B, E and minerals Jar method, rinse frequently to prevent mold
Pumpkin 8 hrs No sprout 1 Vits E and minerals especially iron Jar method
Quinoa 8 hrs 0.5-1cm 1 Vits B, E and amino acids Jar method
Radish 8 hrs 0.5-2cm 2-4 Vits C, potassium and chlorophyll Jar method
Red Clover 8 hrs 0.25-2cm 2-5 Vits A, C and minerals Jar or tray method
Rice 12-15 hrs Ready when root is same length as grain 3-4 Niacin, vitamins E and C Jar method. Best eaten cooked, not raw.
Rye 12-15 hrs Same length as grain 2-4 Good source of manganese, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Jar or tray method.
Sesame 8 hrs No shoot 1-2 Vits B, E and minerals, especially calcium Jar method
Soya bean 24 hrs, changing water regularly 0.5-2cm 3-5 Vits B, E, and minerals such as calcium and iron, plus lecithin. Jar or tray method.
Sunflower 8 hrs 0-0.5cm 1-2 Vits A, C, minerals, chlorophyll Grow using jar or tray method. Can be grown as salad greens in soil in a tray
Sweetcorn 12 hrs 1cm 2-3 Vits A, B, E Jar method
Watercress 8 hrs 1-3cm 2-5 Vits B, E and minerals Grow in a jar, or in punnets on damp paper towel
Wheat 12 hrs 0.5-1cm 2-4 Vits B, C, E and magnesium Jar or tray method, or grow as wheatgrass in trays on soil

Using Your Sprouts

Right, so you've grown some fresh and tasty sprouts - now what should you do with them? Sprouts can of course be cooked, but by far the best way to eat your sprouts is raw - that way you'll know for sure that they're bursting with vitamins and plant enzymes! One of the easiest ways to use raw sprouts in the vegan diet is to simply add them to your salads. There are many recipes for sprout-based salads, although these often require fairly large amounts of sprouts. So if eating sprouts in quantity doesn't appeal to you at first, or if you simply haven't enough room to grow large amounts of sprouts at once, then try using your sprouts as a garnish for your salad instead. Alfalfa and sprouts such as rape, mustard or cress are ideal for garnishing purposes. Alternatively, try using sprouted sunflower or sesame seeds, chopped sprouted almonds or any of the sprouted beans/pulses or grains as a means of adding some extra protein to your salad. It's also possible to make Oriental-style salads by mixing mung beans with other raw vegetables - carrots, celery etc. and perhaps some sprouted peanuts or seeds.

Sprouts also make a great garnish for sandwiches - try mustard and cress or watercress sprouts to add that bit of extra colour. And did you know that there's no need to cook chickpeas if you want to make hummus? Simply, use sprouted chickpeas instead of cooked ones. Raw hummus is ideal for use in dips, sandwiches, or as a filling for pitta breads and it's full of calcium too! And of course raw sprouts make ideal finger snacks, eaten perhaps at parties or used as a change from crisps in children's lunchboxes.

Many sprouts can also be juiced, along with other kinds of fruit and vegetables. Perhaps the most famous sprout for juicing purposes is wheat - which is used to make the health drink rejuvelac. (See The Sprouters Handbook for more information.) Also many sprouts (almonds, sunflowers or hemp seeds for example) can be used to make sprouted seed milks. Whereas almond sprouts, blended with rejuvelac, make a lovely yogurt. In addition sprouted almonds, sunflower and sesame seeds are often used to make raw vegan cheeses.

If you don't mind cooking your sprouts, then sprouts can be used in many cooked vegan dishes too. Perhaps the most famous way of cooking sprouts is to use mung bean sprouts in a stir-fry. But did you know that sprouted sweetcorn, haricot beans, aduki, soya and black-eyed beans can all be used in stir-fries too? And that many types of sprouted grains can be used to make sprout breads - rye, quinoa, or wheat sprouts to name but a few. Also I've even seen alfalfa and triticale sprouts used in recipes for cakes and biscuits! And for a main course - perhaps as a change from a lentil or nut loaf - you could try a loaf made from various sprouts instead. Finally, don't forget that sprouts can be cooked in soups, casseroles and burgers and that some sprouts (e.g. soya and wheat and barley sprouts) can be placed on a baking sheet and baked in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes, until brown and crunchy. Sprinkle these baked sprouts on top of your salads. (For extra flavour sprinkle them with garlic powder before baking.)