Known as Salvia columbaria is a member of the mint family and is commonly called desert sage. The word Chia has Mayan origin meaning strengthening. This plant grows from most of California, Northern Mexico, into Arizona and New Mexico. It begins its growth during the winter rains and will grow to a height of 6 to 16 inches. The leaves are dark green, deeply cut, rough and hairy, and found mostly at the base of the stem at ground level. There can be one to two leaves that appear higher on the stem. The flowers of the chia are blue and resemble those of the mint family. The flowers bloom from March to April and the seeds mature and ripen in June to July. The corolla has an upper “lip” that is indented and two side lobes as well as two lower “lips” that are lobed.
The matured seeds are cleaned and parched then ground into a flower for use in making Pinole. This is a meal made from the ground seeds of plants. It was commonly mixed with other flours such as wheat or corn meal and baked into bread. This Pinole can be used alone and is very pleasant to the taste. The seeds were also ground and mixed with wheat or corn meal to make gruel. These seeds can also be eaten raw and when chewed they become very viscous or slimy almost seeming to expand in the mouth.
A refreshing and nutritious drink can be made from the seeds by grinding them and allowing to soak in water. This can then be strained or drunk without straining. The seeds were once used medicinally as a poultice for gunshot wounds. This will also work well for cuts and lacerations. The seeds can also be placed under the eyelid to remove dirt or objects from the eye. They will also treat intestinal inflammation when swallowed.
The photo at right shows the small deep blue flower of the Chia plant. You can notice the stem is square shaped instead of round. I have always though this was a funny looking plant but is a good one to know. The smell is quite strong and “skunky” as I have heard it referred to. During the growing season of this plant I will harvest some of the seeds and make the drink mentioned above. I will in some cases add a little sugar to the mix. This will sweeten it up a bit and add a really nice sweet flavor.
Try grinding the seeds and adding the flower to other household flowers and you will notice that it lends a nice nutty flavor to what ever you make with it. The seeds are nutritious but can take a very long time to collect enough to feed your self in a survival situation. A good friend of mine told me how the young Apache hunters used the seeds to aid in hydration. The gel that surrounds the seed will hold moisture longer. this is then released into your large intestine where it is needed for rehydration.