Most of us can remember the popular Chia Pet fad of the 80’s. Spread the goopy seeds over your pet and watch its hair magically grow. What is less well known is that Chia seeds are a kind of magical gift from the desert. The Chia plant (Salvia hispanica) is a small annual sage that can be bountiful in our Sonoran Desert after the spring rains. It is a native to Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times where it was considered a sacred plant. Aztec warriors carried small bags tied to their belts full of Chia seeds to sustain them along their warpath. American Indians of the Southwest included Chia as a staple in their diets and was essential in their long journeys to the Pacific coast where they traded goods.
So why is Chia such a special plant for us right now here in the desert? Well its really hot and dry. You always hear, "drink plenty of water"- but that doesn’t always cut it. If we think of the desert floor when it gets a good monsoon rain we watch tremendous amounts of water run off the surface like it was cement. It is not entirely inappropriate to see the internal tissue (mucous membranes) of our bodies in a similar fashion. When the mucous membranes become dried out and rough over a period of time in our dry climate they can have trouble rehydrating to their full capacity. Hydration is necessary for the proper electrolyte balance within the body as well as providing an environment for our cells to flourish. Chia seeds provide a medium for water to move more slowly through the digestive tract and allow water to penetrate into the walls of the mucous membrane. When mixed with water Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 X’s their weight in water! In herbal medicine this is called mucilaginous. Mucilaginous herbs are internally moistening to the body.
Chia is also a power food that contains many nourishing things like: Omega 3 Fatty Acids, protein, & calcium. It is also a good source of soluble fiber. It has been shown to help digestion by creating a barrier between our digestive acids and carbohydrates. This can help create a more steady release of energy as well as balance out high and low blood sugar. One of the obvious benefits of this would be for those with diabetes.
Well the lesson is that the desert that we live in provides this amazing plant to help us create health within our body. We should honor Chia and get to know it as more than just a Chia Pet. Come by and get some Chia seeds to help get you through our long hot dry summer.