04/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chia: Ancient American Superfood


Chia Seeds (Salvia columbariae, S. hispanica)

Though we've all heard of chia pets, this tiny ancient black seed is a bonafide nourishing food crop, once cultivated by The Aztecs, along with beans and corn, and it was once even used \ as a form of currency. Chia is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. Salvia, the genus name, derives from the Latin salvere, meaning, "to save. " Another well known member of the Salvia genus is sage (Salvia officinalis) The common name, chia, derives from the Mayan chiabaan, meaning, "strengthening." The native peoples of the American Southwest have long used chia seeds for endurance, where tribe's people could run swiftly on a handful of chia seeds and a gourd of water. They are fast becoming a favorite for athletes today. Chia seeds have long been used used to correct constipation being rich in soluble fiber. They are considered an energy tonic that moistens the yin (fluids) of the body enhancing joint activity and sexual health.

Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids - even more than flax. The DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) content of the omega 3s enhances immunity and promotes communication between brain cells by allowing enhanced synapse activity. Chias are also rich in protein, (20% on a dry weight basis), vitamin B complex (especially niacin (B3) and riboflavinB2), and biotin calcium, potassium and fiber. They also contain immune activating mucopolysaccharides and the antioxidant quercetin. They help to regulate blood sugar levels, thus curbing the desire to overeat. According to Asian Medicine, foods that are naturally black in color support the Kidneys and Bladder.

Chia seeds absorb seven times their weight in water. It is best to moisten them before eating, or they can absorb water from the body, leading to dryness and constipation. When well moistened, they provide wonderful lubrication for the body. They are an excellent food for body builders, athletes and those wanting to lose weight as they enable one to feel full on small amounts of food.

Soak one forth cup chia seeds in 2 cups pure water overnight and stir well to prevent the seeds from clumping. Allow to stand overnight on the counter or refrigerator. Add more water if needed. The seeds do not need to be ground up in order to be digested, but if one suffers from diverticulitis, grind the amount you would consume in one day for even easier digestion. In the morning, add chopped apples, a handful of raisins, blueberries, chopped nuts, honey, as you wish, for a simple breakfast. I have even added chocolate and banana and nuts for a delicious sugar and dairy free pudding.

Any seeds not consumed can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. I even take chia seeds and mix with leftovers such as tomato sauce, basil pesto and spread the mixture thin on dehydrator seeds and dehydrate till crisp to make gluten free crackers. Chia has also been used successfully as a superfood for cats, dogs and chickens.

Chia seeds have a long shelf life and are slow to oxidize. Chia seeds have been used topically as a poultice, once moistened with water to draw out infection, and even to treat gunshot wounds in the Wild Southwest. Chia seed oil had been used in cosmetics and as a wood preservative.

Chia is an annual plant with a square stem and oval leaves that produces small blue flowers at the ends of the branches. It is often cultivated between rows of corn. It thrives at high altitudes.

Don't be alarmed about the cost of chia seeds. (Last I looked was about $20 a pound retail). One pound will supply a month's worth of breakfasts. It takes about 800,000 seeds to make up a pound.

Chia.... It's not just for pets anymore.

Brigitte Mars, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, is a nutritional consultant who has been working with Natural Medicine for over forty years. She teaches Herbal Medicine at Naropa University, Omega, Boulder College of Massage, and Bauman Holistic College of Nutrition. She has a weekly local radio show called "Naturally" on KGNU and a private practice. Brigitte is the author of twelve books, including The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, Beauty by Nature, Addiction Free Naturally, Healing Herbal Teas, and Rawsome!. Click here for more healthy living articles, raw food recipes, videos, workshops, books, and more at