The chia plant is actually a herb that is native to South America and the southwestern United States. The scientific name for chia is Salvia Hispanica and it belongs to the same family as mint and to the same genus as the herb sage, it grow wildly in warm climates. If you live in California you have probably walked right by a chia plant and didn’t recognize it.
Chia was one of the primary sources of food among the Aztecs for thousands of years along with maze (corn) and amaranth. Since it was light and easy to carry, chia seeds were an ideal food for the “runners” which made up mail delivery system developed by the ancient Aztecs and Incas where they would run for long distances.
After the Spaniards arrived to South America the usage chia plant was nearly wiped out. It went from being an incredibly popular source of food to practically unheard of. The Aztecs used them in many religious ceremonies where the seeds were symbolic and deemed as sacred. The Spanish Christians and their oppressive ways banned the use of the seed in an attempt to stop them from practicing their traditions. Similar to how all nearly records of the Aztec beliefs were destroyed, so was the usage of the chia seed.
Luckily, many of the farmers in South America have maintained the use of the ancient crop and to this day is making a comeback. The seeds grow very easily especially in these climates which is why so much of it grows in the wild. The base of the plant is very leafy where a long stem sprouts. At the top of the stem there are spiky looking leaves that sprout at the top in a long or spherical shape. Each leave is a tiny pod that holds the chia seeds. From in between the leaves are a few purple/indigo flowers that look similar to a tiny orchid.
The reason the chia plant is so important is because of the seeds it produces. Unlike many other seeds, seeds from the chia plant absorb 15 times their weight in water which is one of the reasons they are also drought resistant. The large amount of nutrition the seed provides is why so many people refer to it as a super food. It’s an ideal source of plant protein. Around 20% of the seed is protein. It also produces large amounts of chia oil which around 60% of it is the healthy omega 3. So far research has shown that chia oil is the most potent source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Besides protein and omega 3’s, the seeds are also a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Since the plant is so easy to grow and cultivate, many sustainable farms are sprouting all over the world (mostly in the southern hemisphere) like Australia, New Zealand and many countries throughout South America. The chia plant does not require any pesticides or fertilizers since growth is easy and insects don’t bother the plant. Because of this, many sources of the seeds are either natural or certified organic.
More research is needed to see if other parts of the plant have any beneficial uses or health benefits. Chia sprouts can be used instead of bean sprouts and can be added to salads or sandwiches.