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The Chia plant grows in clusters of several stems that sprout from a base of deeply lobed leaves that are covered in fine gray hairs. One to four spherical clusters of pale blue to deep lavender flowers dot the stems. Inside these heads are the desirable seeds which may be extracted once the flowers dry and turn a golden brown color. The tiny seeds are no larger than 2 mm and are grayish-brown. They range in flavor from a mild herbal mint note when simply added raw in beverages to a rich complexity of hazelnut and butter when toasted.
Chia blooms from late spring to early summer.
Chia, Salvia columbariae, is an annual herb in the mint family that is harvested for its edible seeds. Once popularized as a novelty gift that would sprout to life when watered, Chia is now touted as an energizing superfood. Deemed a “fire following species”, Chia plants thrive in the charred landscapes left by wild fires
The seeds of the Chia are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, protein, amino acids, iron, calcium and vitamin C. This potent nutrient combination gave it the name “Indian Runing Food”, from the days when the Diegueño tribe ate chia seeds during long journeys across the desert. Some even claim that one tablespoon of chia seed is enough to supply a person with 24 hours worth of energy.
The seeds of Chia may be eaten raw, as a sprout or even toasted to develop their delicious nutty flavor. When moistened, a mucilaginous structure encapsulates the seeds creating a unique gel-like consistency. This quality makes them great for a gluten free thickener in sauces, a non-dairy style of pudding, or a protein supplement in smoothies. The seeds may also be ground into a meal for porridge or mixed with flour in other baking applications. Chia seeds combine well with sweet flavors such as orange, coconut, chocolate and vanilla, or in savory applications with artichokes, spinach, fresh cheeses and wild rice.
A ground meal of Chia seeds called pinole was a staple food for many Native tribes in the Pacific Southwest. The seeds were also used medicinally to reduce fever and inflammation or in removing irritants from the eye, such as sand, a common problem in the desert. Chia played such a central role in daily life that it was commonly part of ceremonial offerings and even used as a sort of currency.
Chia may be found in dry disturbed areas throughout southern portions of California, Utah, and Arizona as well as in northern Baja California. The Salinan, Costanoan, Chumash, Paiute, Maidu, and Kawaiisu tribes all relied heavily on Chia seeds for their myriad of uses.
Recipes that include Chia. One is easiest, three is harder.