Pycnosphace columbariae (Benth.) Rydb.
Common Name: Chia
Flowering plant in native habitat in Arizona
Photograph by: Jarek Tuszynski
Chia is an erect, annual to perennial herb growing up to 70cm tall.
This plant was a staple food crop of the Aztecs[
]. It is gathered from the wild and also often cultivated for its edible seeds, which are used medicinally and also to make a refreshing and nourishing drink.
South-western N. America - California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and northern Mexico.
Dry open places below 1,200 metres[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Wild
A plant of semi-arid areas in the subtropics, the plant can be cultivated from the temperate to tropical zones.
Requires a very well-drained light sandy soil in a sunny position[
]. Prefers a rich soil[
Plants are lodge resistant[
A good bee plant[
Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[
Seed - raw or cooked[
]. Usually ground into a powder and used as piñole or made into dark-coloured cakes and loaves[
], it has a nutty flavour[
]. It can also be mixed with corn meal when making mush or with ground wheat for gruel[
]. Rich in niacin, thiamine, zinc, calcium and manganese[
], it is also a good source of protein and easily digested fats[
]. It has a high food value and is easily digested[
The seeds have been kept in the mouth, and chewed during long journeys on foot, in order to give strength[
The sprouted seeds can be added to salads and sandwiches[
A refreshing drink can be made by steeping the seed in cold water[
]. Alternatively, the seed can be roasted and ground into a powder then mixed with water when it soon becomes a copious gelatinous mass[
]. It is very palatable and nutritious[
The leaves are occasionally used as a sage-like seasoning[
The seed is digestive, disinfectant, febrifuge and ophthalmic[
]. An infusion can be used in the treatment of fevers[
]. A poultice of the seed mush can be applied to infections[
The seeds have been used to cleanse the eyes or remove foreign matter from the eyes[
]. No more information is given here, but in other instances the seed has been placed in the eye, it then forms a gelatinous covering to which any foreign matter in the eye adheres. The seed is washed out of the eye by the eyes own tears[
The seed has been used to render water palatable by removing the alkalis[
Seed - sow April in situ. The plant dislikes root disturbance.
If seed supplies are limited then it can be sown in a pot in a greenhouse in March/April, potted up into individual pots as soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle then planted out in May. Germination usually takes 10 - 14 days at 20°c.
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