Photo by Melody

Check out CHIA - an Indigenous Food

By Diana Wind (windSeptember 7, 2011

What's not to like about Chia sages? The salvia genus fascinates many gardeners, and if you're like me, you grow more than one Salvia species. Why not try Chia? Salvia hispanica, S. columbariae and S. tiliifolia caught my interest because, not only are they beautiful hummingbird-attracting plants, their seeds are super high in nutrition, similar to flaxseeds. Chia seeds offer excellent health benefits and have benefited man throughout history. Check out Chia! (part 2)

Gardening picture

Unlike Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue' and Common Sage (Salvia officinalis), which you can find just about everywhere, Chia sages have limited availability and are nowhere near as popular. Chia has yet to be discovered by most gardeners and garden suppliers.

If you want to grow Chia in your potted arrangements, hummingbird and kitchen gardens, don't despair. Suppliers can be found. A quick online search will connect you with sellers of rare Tarahumara chia and S. columbariae. You'll find plenty of S. hispanica chia seeds for consumption. Hardy to USDA zones 9-11, S. hispanica is generally not sold as seeds to plant, due to its daylight sensitivity (may not set seed before a killing frost).

Click here for Part-1: Check out CHIA - a Super Salvia

Part-2: Chia History, Cooking with Chia

Chia History

Used in foods throughout history, Chia was included in diets of native North Americans who ate indigenous nuts, seeds, berries and whole grains. S. hispanica chia was described and pictured in 16th century Mendoza and Florentine Aztec codices as being a staple food for the Aztec civilization. Chia seeds are often associated with energy and sustenance for physically active individuals.

In her book, The Chumash Indians: Seafarers of the Pacific Coast, author Karen Bush Gibson says pine nuts, acorns and chia seeds were foods gathered by Southern California's Chumash Indians. Chumash historically inhabited Californian coastal regions from Malibu to San Luis Obispo and inland, which was rich with S. columbariae. Chumash would toast the seeds and grind them to a paste, before incorporating them into their meals or drinks. Other southern California native American tribes, including the Cahuilla, Luiseño, Diegueño, Tübatulabal, Costanoan and Kitanemuk, also utilized various sage species in foods, medicine and ceremonview on the copper canyon (barranca del cobre) in Chihuahua, Mexico ies.

Tohono O'odham - aboriginal Americans mostly in the Sonoran Desert of southeastern Arizona and northwest Mexico, along with the Pima (a subgroup of the O'odham) relied on indigenous foods too. In the Arizona desert their indigenous food plants included mesquite, cholla, prickly pear cactus, tepary beans, acorns and chia seeds - none of which are popular foods in modern American or even Native American diets.

Today, American Indians (and Alaska Native people) are plagued with the highest risks for obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes and are finding themselves involved in studies helping scientists from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn more about these diseases.

According to Daphne Miller, author of The Jungle Effect, Mexico's large tribe of Tarahumaran Indians from the Sierra Madre Occidental didn't get western diseases like obesity and diabetes either. However, they are now as traditional lifestyles of the past are replaced with less activity and convenient processed and junk foods.

Tarahumaran culture valued locally grown, nutrient dense foods like chia. Seeds from this super salvia were said to provide endurance for running miles of mountainous trails in Mexico's breathtaking Copper Canyon. Christopher McDougall mentions in his book, Born to Run, that Tarahamarans were known as the running people, and that they made a gelatinous drink from chia seeds called Chia Fresca (Agua de Chia).

Today the health drink is concocted by many athletes and runners for energy. I tried to make it (water, tablespoon of chia seeds, juice of one lime or lemon and sweetener to taste) and decided the gooey glob from the chia raft that formed in my glass was best left to form in my digestive system! I suppose it would have tasted better had I blended the soaked seeds in a blender or added them to a fruit smoothie. Chias bland flavor and tiny size allows for great versatility and ease of incorporation into most foods. 

Cooking with ChiaChia mashed potatoes, baked chicken, roasted asparagus parmesan

The natural antioxidants found in chia seeds allow them to be stored at room temperature. Like any seeds or nuts, they can also be stored in freezer baggies or containers. Frozen seeds can then be used as needed. Chia seeds are so small, they almost instantly thaw.

Toasted or raw, chia seeds add nutrition to prepared foods, uncooked foods (salads and yogurt) and baked foods, including: breads, rolls, muffins, cakes, crackers and energy bars. Unlike flaxseed, chia seeds are small enough to be eaten whole without the need to grind them for full health benefits. Ground chia when soaked gets gelatinous, and like ground flaxseeds, can serve as an egg replacer in vegan and heart healthy recipes. Chia can be sprinkled on - or cooked in - cereals, vegetables and grains, and can serve as a condiment for just about any main dish.


Like flaxseeds, chia seeds do not contain any gluten, offering another healthy choice to those looking to make gluten-free recipes. Gluten-free products include: chia oil, ground chia and chia seed flour blends. Foods made with chia can also be found online and in natural foods markets. Not all products using chia are gluten-free; be sure to read the product label.

Click here for 'Check out Chia - Super Seed Nutrition' Part-3

Photo credits: View on the Copper Canyon (barranca del cobre) in Chihuahua, Mexico photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons by Jens Uhlenbrock. Thumbnail and food collage photos Copyright ©2011 D.Wind. All rights reserved.

 Related Links: Tarahumara, A People Apart, National Geographic

Chumash Culture

The Pima Indians, Pathfinders for Health

  About Diana Wind  
Diana WindDiana is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a passion for gardening and sustainable foods. She is a graduate of the Academy of Culinary Arts and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food from the garden fuels her enthusiasm for eating right and nutritional science. She especially loves gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening engages us with nature, gives us health benefits from exercise, and rewards us with fresh, nutritious foods. To assess your food and garden activity level, visit or her blog. You can also follow Diana on Google.

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