The Joy of Survival Sprouting
Seeds are technically biologically alive, slowly consuming their energy reserves waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Many seeds will still germinate for many years if stored properly. Recently, scientists successfully sprouted a record breaking 2000 year old date palm seed found in Israel.
Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds (usually herbs, grains, legumes, oil seeds, and nuts) to be eaten raw or cooked. In the right conditions of air, temperature, and moisture, most seeds will grow a little tail that pushes out of the seed shell or hull and burns up the energy stored in the seed to break through whatever is in its way to reach sunlight. Once it reaches sunlight, it can begin to photosynthesize the energy it needs to grow into a mature plant.
As a dietary practice and survival strategy, I believe sprouting is the most important thing we could all be doing. It’s cheap and easy. It allows you to cultivate crops with a 3 day harvest time that increase vitamin and mineral content availability 300-500 times that of unsprouted cooked grains, seeds, and legumes. Also, relative to the parts of the mature plant, there’s often more nutrient density in a sprout as it’s filled with all of the material and vital energy needed to burst forth into life as a plant.
Some of the benefits I’ve experienced consistently when I have a high percentage of sprouts in my diet include:
Full rest at exactly six hours of sleep, vivid dreams, enhanced memory, enhanced motor skill speed and accuracy, enhanced vision, enhanced concentration/focus, enhanced verbal ability, super-charged physical energy, higher pain/stress tolerance, increased experience of/connection to intuition, more patience and inner peace, more mystical/transcendent meditation, increased sexual energy and sensitivity.
Beyond the personal benefits, sprouting rather than cooking reduces the need for fuel energy (though some legume sprouts should be lightly cooked in my experience and opinion to break down mildly toxic and malodorous compounds, 5 minutes of boiling or frying works for me).
I started sprouting about 6 years ago. At the Gaian Mind Institute (a non-profit co-op house/community center/research facility I co-founded and was living at in 2005) we agreed to be vegan with an emphasis on raw and living foods. We had a juicer, dehydrator, food processor, blender, coffee grinder, sprouter, and other miscellaneous culinary gadgets. We were collecting donated surplus produce from local farmers’ markets for our youth volunteer programs, weekly free vegan potluck, neighborhood free food pick-up program, and community garden composting. We had a lot of food material to work with so we all got to experiment with a wide range of methods, recipes, and dishes.
For a time we were using the sprouter to make a daily alfalfa breakfast meal base. Aside from the mucilaginous properties of the alfalfa, it was great. The problem was the electric powered water recycling sprout machine was a little flawed, either that or we didn’t use it properly. The sprouts kept molding. Like many consumer contraptions that are too clever for their own good, they end up collecting dust on shelves as they either don’t work like they’re supposed to, or are user-unfriendly.
The sprouting stopped for a while with the decommissioning of that sprouting device. Months later when we lost the community center space, the last of us migrated to the South Central Farm which at that time was an occupied direct action encampment, resisting the bulldozing of 14 acres of community garden plots. We set up our side-walk camp with a tarp teepee and joined what I affectionately called “activist skid row”. They had just opened a community center space across the street from the occupation. We brought some of our kitchen gear over there for use by the campaign.
We had recently got a simpler, lower tech sprouting device and I tried putting it to use there. It was a set of mason jar lids made out of plastic. The top of the lid was like a strainer with a grid of square holes. I knew the jar sprouting formula was to put a about a half an inch to an inch of seed stock in a wide-mouthed mason jar, soak for about 8 hours (or overnight to make it easy), then store at room temperature, rinsing at least twice a day, harvest when the sprouts are at desired length (usually after 3-5 days), then refrigerate. I didn’t know the key however, which is that during the rinsing period the jars must be kept at approximately a 45 degree angle to insure that the metabolic wastes of the new-born sprouts are gravity flushed out of the jar, and to insure that all the sprouts can breathe. A friend of mine at the encampment taught me this critical part of the process. Since then I’ve been religiously jar sprouting and it’s comprised anywhere from 25-75% of my diet on average.
My favorite sprout crops so far have been brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, flax, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, corns, peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, and almonds (note: tiny seeds don’t do well in jars, I’ve found cloth to work better)
After using the plastic sprout jar lids, and later using a specialty plastic tilting device I realized that the jar sprouting meme is limited by the necessity to have some designer contraption to keep the jar tilted. As I’ve become more of a survivalist and primitivist, I’m always looking for the simplest, least manufactured, lowest-energy, least component devices/methods to support basic survival needs. The easiest way to d.i.y.ify or “MacGyver” my sprout jar system was by assembling tilting contraptions and waste water collectors out of Tupperware, cups, lids, etc. I got it working for myself but whenever I’d help get others to start sprouting, it was always hit or miss based on what random junk was available in a given household’s cupboard. At one point I finally decided to make a “trans-apocalyptic” sprout jar angler out of materials that will be ubiquitously available in a post-industrial world: 2x4s, fly-screens, nails, staples, and bike inner tubes. I made my own high-heel shoe for the jar, it kind of looks like a Birkentstock sandal with two nails giving it the boost at the heel.
For a couple years I used this model in a “lab” with no windows and no sunlight. I noted that with air, water, seed stock, and a jar sprouting system you could survive under ground.
Sprouting as a survival strategy is essential as it can help prevent/delay the onset of scurvy and other diseases of malnutrition. So whether you’re in a cave, bunker, desert, mountain, raft, etc. you can stretch your survivability and get by for longer without a supply of perishable fresh food, you just need a sprouting kit. I can’t make any claims about how long you could last solely on sprouts. There are so-called “sproutarians” out there, but I don’t know how strict they are, and I don’t know of any scientific/medical experiments that have been done to determine the safe duration an average human could survive on sprouts alone.
Beyond the nutritive aspect, there’s also the volume. By sprouting you increase the biomass of your food sometimes over 1000%. Visualize this: after putting a half-inch of dry lentils in the bottom of a jar, in 3-5 days the jar is full and over-grown.
After living in the simulated cave/bunker environment, when I moved my lab to an outdoor urban garden/survival camp type environment (at two urban garden projects I started after the demise of the South Central Farm) I discovered that the jars would get overrun by fly larva and flies would reproduce inside the jars by the thousands. My response was to find larger plastic jars to enclose the sprout jars in. I inverted the outer jar, drove a nail in the side to keep the inner jar upright as it leaned over the edge of the larger jar’s lid which acted as a collector for the waste water. There was enough air in the outer jar for the sprouts to breathe, and they ended up requiring less rinsing because the moisture didn’t evaporate out of the system. After a rinse, the water evaporated and condensed into a dew within the two jar system.
There are other methods of sprouting such as trays, colanders, and bags. My experience with those in both indoor and outdoor environments is that they attract flies. Theoretically if you create an outer enclosure that’s fly proof, you could sprout using trays and bags at a much larger scale then jars. For personal/household crop yields, I think jars are the way to go. They’re easy to clean, easy to manage, and easy to assemble into kits.
For true shit-hit-the-fan survival situations, especially if you’re forced to be mobile, I imagine a cloth method would be better than carrying breakable glass jars. You could soak the seed stock for 8 hours in a bowl, canteen, water bottle, etc. then for the rinsing cycle, use a piece of t-shirt material, a bandana, etc. twist a handful of the seed stock into the center, tie the corners together, hang off a tree branch at night and off your back-pack while hiking, and just dip in clean (filtered/purified) water twice a day.
For home food storage I recommend the standard 5 gallon bucket food storage system. This requires a 5 gallon bucket, a mylar bag, oxygen absorber packets, and dry bulk food. Rather than storing white rice and pasta, by storing sproutables, you’re able to have a food source that can be cooked, sprouted, and in many cases planted as a garden crop. Many times there will be more sprouts growing out of my jars than I can eat and when they start to get a little gnarly, I’ll toss them in the worm bin and they’ll continue to grow so I can prick them out, pot them up, and plant them later.
Some of the most commons sprouts include: alfalfa, fenugreek, mung bean, lentil, pea, chickpea, oat, wheat, corn, rice, barley, rye, kamut, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, sesame, sunflower, almond, hazelnut, peanut, broccoli, carrot, spinach, cabbage, celery, fennel, onion, parsley, radish, turnip, leek, watercress, mustard, arugula, lemon grass, lettuce, clover, mizuna, milk thistle, tatsoi, etc.