Origin: Tarahumara People, Cerocahui, Chihuahua, Mexico
Improvement Status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~50
Germination tested: Awaiting results
The word "Chia" is said to come from a Mayan word for strength. It is commonly applied to the seeds of a number of species in the sage family (Lamiaceae), most commonly Salvia hispanica, which have been widely consumed traditionally across Mesoamerica. The chia seeds that have become incredibly popular as a "superfood" over the past decade (and the same as the famous "chia pet" seeds) are all Salvia hispanica, but due to day-length sensitivity that species only begins flowering in most of the United States just before frost (if at all), so it fails to produce seeds. The Tarahumara people of northern Mexico collect wild seeds from a different chia species, Salvia tiliaefolia (which is quite similar, but has slightly smaller seeds and a slightly different leaf shape), used as a major source of nutrition. Tarahumara people are famous for their long-distance running, and they are said to credit chia as their main source of energy on long-distance runs. The leaves are also edible, with a minty, mildly sage-like flavor, most commonly utilized for tea, but also with culinary uses. Tarahumara chia leaves make a great pesto! The plant has beautiful blue flowers which pollinators love.
Remarkably, Tarahumara chia grows well in New Jersey and reliably sets viable seeds for us just before frost. Nate originally got these Tarahumara chia seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona, quite a few years ago, and has been saving seeds from only the earliest producing plants in order increase its utility as a food crop for the north. As these seeds were originally sourced from the wild in Chihuahua, there is still quite a bit of diversity. The seeds we're selling this year came from Nate's stock, but were grown for EFN in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, by Josh Lard.
GROWING TIPS: Very easy to grow. Start in flats or direct seed. During prolonged droughts plants will need to be watered. Harvest seed by cutting down plants at just above the ground, then hang upside down to dry. Crush dry matter by hand or stomp under foot on a tarp.