Chia (Salvia hispanica) is indigenous to the western part of North America. Evidence of the plant's use goes back hundreds of years in this region, and it has been used for everything from food to medicine to landscaping. In the last 20 years, it has found worldwide popularity in a novelty item called the Chia Pet.
People mostly know about the chia plant because of Chia Pets. Chia Pet kits consist of a terra cotta sculpture (usually an animal or a head) and seeds. The seeds should be mixed in water and spread over the sculpture. They quickly grow into green sprouts and become the “fur” or “hair” of the figure. Care of a Chia Pet is incredibly simple and helped to fuel the craze.
Though interest in Chia Pets have waned, the chia seed itself is still used in food. The seed is a potent source of nutrients like omega-3. If roasted, they have a nutty flavor. Chia seeds are eaten alone or over cereal or yogurt, similar to granola. They can also be used for medicinal purposes. In early Californian missions, the seeds were used to make teas that treated fevers and a poultice for gunshot wounds.
Chia plants and seeds are very hardy. This is not surprising considering that they thrive in low-moisture areas like California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. In fact, the danger for chia plants comes with potential over-watering. This is why it is important to grow any chia shrub away from lawns and other thirsty plants.
Chia seeds are mucilaginous. When they get wet, a slippery, mucus layer begins to form. The seeds then become hard to handle. This can happen in as little as five minutes. For this reason, the seeds must be carefully stored and kept dry.
Planting chia seeds simply requires scattering them over soil and raking lightly. If starting these plants in flats, they do best in light, porous soil. Later they should be transplanted to an area that gets a lot of sun.
Chias are what are know as “fire following plants.” Ancient cultivators found that if they burned the plant after harvest, next year's crop was more plentiful. Sprinkle some burned remnants of the shrub over newly planted seed to quicken germination.
In addition, the chia plant is self sowing because the seeds naturally drop off the plant. If they are not eaten by birds and mice, they should grow into new plants.