Washington DC, United States: If I start another business, I’d grow and sell organic edible flowers and microgreens. It sounds painfully yuppie-ish, I know, but microgreens are blowing up because they’re easy to grow in urban spaces, are colorful additions to salads, sandwiches, and cocktails alike, and are packed with nutrients. For better or worse, Instagram has changed how we live. Restaurants and food bloggers dress up their dishes with colorful flowers and greens to make them more photogenic, and now we all want to live that aspirational, aesthetically pleasing life. Of course, you don’t have to be an “influencer” to like cute things, but it’s clear that their popularity is about their looks as much as it is their novelty and taste.
Edible flowers include varieties of rose, hibiscus, dandelions, and calendula, while microgreens include red cabbage and green daikon. The interest in this industry shows, once again, that sustainability is profitable and possible in urban spaces. They’re easy enough that almost anyone could grow them for personal use, too. Growing microgreens just requires a few square feet, soil, water, and light; you could grow some for your own Instagrammable, healthy dishes in your own kitchen.
So, what are microgreens? They’re edible greens that are about 8-20 days old at their harvest. They’re younger than baby greens like baby kale, but older than sprouts. Unlike sprouts, they need soil to grow past the stage of a tiny stem and underdeveloped leaves. Edible flowers are included in the microgreen categories because they’re also harvested when young and require very little space to grow. The flowers and greens are often very fragrant and flavorful, ranging from savory and spicy to sweet and almost creamy. Johnny Jump Ups, for example, are flowers known for their vanilla flavor. Some chefs have described microgreens as clean and earthy. They’re not a new phenomenon either; flowers like borage blossoms have been used in salads since the Elizabethan Era, according to Southern Living Magazine. They’re versatile and can be used in any number of dishes.
Unsurprisingly, many of these flowers and greens are already popular ingredients in natural skincare or teas; they’re quite good for you. Roses and rosehips are already known for their anti-inflammatory, soothing properties, and hibiscus is full of antioxidants. Lavender and calendula, too, are already favorites in the health food community. The greens are even better for you and let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to eat a salad made up entirely of flowers. According to NPR, researchers at the University of Maryland found phytochemicals like vitamin C, E, and beta carotene in densities 4-6 times higher in microgreens than in their mature counterparts. More research is needed to find conclusive evidence, especially as other variables such as light and water quality affect the nutrient makeup of any crop. Nevertheless, it’s a great start.
Urban farms are at the forefront of this food revolution. Microgreens can easily be grown indoors under lights or in tiny patches and pots. Restaurants can source their greens from local growers, which is more sustainable (less packaging, less shipping) and keeps the freshness and flavor intact. One of my favorite edible flower farms and one that seems to be ahead of the curve on this trend is Little Wild Things here in DC. The owner said she was inspired by a group of farmers who practiced “SPIN-farming”, or small plot intensive farming. Their flowers were so popular that they had to temporarily stop growing some varieties of greens to keep up with the demand. Some of the hippest local restaurants source flowers from them; and they even offer same-day delivery of salads and flowers for residents of the District.
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Whether you want to roll your eyes at the Insta-trends or not, these flowers are undeniably cute and sustainable. I can see their popularity encouraging more people to try their hand at farming in small spaces – more farms and more local produce are good things. The demand keeps growing and as a novelty good, they’re still fairly pricey (but worth it for the ‘gram, remember), so a determined farmer might as well be growing money. It’s not going to solve world hunger, but I’d love to see a cottage industry of home-grown greens and novice gardeners flourish in the new health-conscious, locavore market.
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