How to Grow Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are enjoying newfound popularity due to their wide range of nutritional and health benefits.
The chia is an annual herb that grows freely in warm zones, and is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The name is a Mayan word that means “strength” but is also derived from an Aztec word for “oily”. It is also known by its botanical name which is Salvia hispanica. A member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, salvia is the largest genus. These types of plants are known for assertive growth and, in some cases, aggressive spread, as with many mint plants.
Chia plants are very low-care once established. The chia’s flowers form on spikes that resemble wheat, on stalks that can grow up to five feet tall. The tiny bell-shaped flowers on display from late spring to early summer are a pleasing violet-blue color. Although the plant has some ornamental value in itself, the chia’s real star-quality comes from its seeds.
Benefits of Chia Seeds
The chia’s seeds are a valuable food crop commonly known as a “pseudocereal” since it’s a seed and not a grain. They’re grown throughout Mexico and Guatemala for this purpose, as well as the southeastern United States.
The seed’s high oil content is caloric and it is bursting with nutrients including thiamine, niacin and various dietary minerals including manganese, selenium, phosphorous, and copper.
They also contain antioxidant compounds, including quercetin. These compounds are believed to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, including heart disease. The antioxidants also give chia seeds a very long shelf life, as they help prevent rancidity. This can be a problem with the storage of other oil-producing seeds. Chia seeds also have plenty of fiber, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds have been studied extensively for their health benefits and have been recommended for diabetes treatment, and helping to lower cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and blood pressure.
These heart-healthy seeds are commonly added to commercial foods like cereal, granola bars, yogurt, and baked goods. They are frequently added to smoothies for a nutritional boost.
The seeds can also be prepared with water to make a gelatinous substitute for eggs, commonly used in vegan baking, similar to how flax seeds can be used to make an egg replacement.
|Scientific Name||Salvia hispanica|
|Mature Size||5 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Tolerant of all soils, prefers clay or sandy|
|Soil pH||Tolerant of all soils|
|Bloom Time||Early summer|
|Flower Color||Pale blue|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA 8-11|
|Native Areas||Mexico, Guatemala|
Chia Plant Care
If you want a harvest of these seeds for use in your own home, fortunately, chia plants are easy to grow and low-maintenance once established, especially if you live in a hot region of North America.
Chia plants do best in full sun. They’re very tolerant of heat, even in the hottest days of summer.
These plants are very adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions. Their native regions tend to have sandy soil, but they’ll do well in clay soils as well. Good drainage is important, however, as chia plants don’t like to stay too wet.
If growing your chia plants in pots, use a commercial growing mix with a bit of sand added, and use unglazed terracotta pots for good moisture absorption.
Chia plants are very drought-tolerant. They benefit from regular watering until they’re established, but after that may need little to no additional watering, as they tend to adjust to all sorts of conditions.
They’re known to be one of the first plants to re-emerge after a fire, an indication of their hardiness and adaptability.
Growing Chia Plants From Seeds
This plant grows in USDA zones 8-11, and newly-developed strains of seed have shown promise for growing in even colder zones for commercial purposes.
If you live in the appropriate growing zone, you can sow chia seeds as you would other annual flowers.
Prepare your bed of soil in the fall, and scatter seeds lightly over, just barely covering with soil. Water lightly each day until sprouts appear.
Once established, your chia plants should self-sow each fall. They’re well-loved by pollinators (as many salvia flowers are), but they will also self-pollinate. The chia seeds will form in small seed heads beneath the flowers.
This article gives tips for how to grow chia seeds and caring for the chia plants (Salvia hispanica) that provide these nutritious seeds.
Chia Plants: How To Grow and Harvest Chia Seeds
Author: Andrea Bertoli // Last updated on August 24, 2020 9 Comments
Chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses and have a huge range of versatility in the kitchen. They are my very favorite seed to use in the kitchen. But what about chia plants? In this article, we’re going to look at how to grow these awesome little plants that are easy to grow and beautiful to look at.
Chia plants are the flowering plants grown from chia seeds. A member of the mint family, these plants (Salvia hispanica) are easily grown from seed and can sprout as quickly as two days. In fact, it happens all the time in my kitchen when chia seeds get stuck to the dish sponge or hide on the countertop!
Despite their tiny seed size, chia plants can grow quite big: upwards of about 6 feet! They require quite a bit of space in the garden and would do best in a garden bed rather than a pot. They will need as much space as a large bush or small tree would. These plants, with their large flower stalks of purple flowers, will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.
How To Grow A Chia Plant
To direct seed chia, weed out the garden in your selected spot. You’ll want to choose a location that has well-drained soil and gets plenty of sun. Loosen the topsoil and layer in the chia seeds. Chia seeds are always sold raw, and you can plant the same ones you’d use in the kitchen. Thin out the chia sprouts after they are a few inches tall, leaving about 12-18 inches of spacing on each side. This ensures that the chia plant can grow in all directions.
graibeard / Flickr (Creative Commons)
During the growth phase, keep the soil moist. Once established, chia plants can handle drier conditions, as its desert-based Meso-American roots imply. The plant will flower after about 12 weeks of growth. Chia plants will need to flower in order for you to harvest seeds. If your plant doesn’t flower, you can use the leaves as a tea; although I think that might be a bummer consolation prize to the expected seed harvest!
Chia Plant Growing Conditions
Chia plants are grown as an annual in USDA Zones 8-12, covering most of the southeastern United States. Frost will stop the growth of flowers, and thus, seeds in colder regions. Some reports show that chia plants can grow in cooler regions, but the shorter season might mean fewer seeds; and since they are so tiny, it might not be worth the effort.
If you live in a cooler climate but still want to practice growing these plants, chia sprouts can be eaten. Sprinkle some seeds into a pot of moist soil or a growing tray, and harvest them when they are about 2 inches tall. Rinse well and enjoy in salads or on sandwiches.
Chia plants are easy to grow organically, and natural compounds in the leaves prevent most bugs. Although, they can be susceptible to whiteflies. As sprouting chia plants are quite delicate, herbicides are not recommended—instead, manually weed out any chia sprouts that are not thriving along with any other weeds in the garden bed to ensure that the chia is off to a good start.
Harvesting Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are easy to harvest from slightly dried flower heads. As the pretty purple flowers of the chia flower stalk start to dry, they will lose their petals. This is the ideal time to harvest. Don’t wait until the flower browns, as this will compromise the harvest.
Cut the stalk from the plant and layer it onto a drying rack. Alternatively, you can store your stalks in a paper or cotton bag so that it dries fully. What’s considered an amount of “fully dry” time will depend on your climate. Once they are fully dried, they can be crushed and separated. DenGarden has a few tricks for harvesting chia seeds and how to get the most seeds from your harvest.
Once harvested, store your chia seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place (like in a mason jar). These seeds can be used the same way that packaged chia seeds would, or you can save and sow the seeds next season. If you do not harvest your chia seeds, they will self-sow for the next season.
A Brief History Of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have a long history with Native people of the southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America, and have been a staple crop since the time of the Incas, where they were used for food, ritual, and medicine. Despite this long history, they were not really used in the U.S. until the 1980s when we had a Chia Pet craze. Luckily, chia has now found a solid place in the health food scene, with really good reason.
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are huge in nutrition, offering healthy fats, fiber, vegan protein, calcium, and iron. I eat chia seeds nearly every day in my daily decadent chia pudding bowls (see above). Their unique texture is similar to tapioca but is whole-foods and wholesome. You can also mix these healthy seeds into smoothies, drinks, oatmeal, sprinkle atop salads, or use as an egg replacer in vegan cookies.
Chia seeds are a versatile superfood that can be used in a variety of recipes. Grow your own chia seeds at home with our tips for growing a chia plant.