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Healing Herbs and Spices of India, Part VI – Chia Seeds

Shoba Rajamani
Shoba is located in Bangalore and describes herself as creative, adventurous, a movie lover, a novel reader, and a badminton player. She dreams of one day writing her own children's book.
Published: December 6, 2022
A healthy and colorful snack with chia seeds. (Image: ximatsuking via Pixabay)

You may have heard that chia seeds are a healthy addition to your diet that can also help you lose weight. It’s true! Chia seeds are regarded as a highly-nutritious food with numerous health benefits. They are one of the key elements in the Indian healing system of Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and other traditional remedies to treat ailments.

What exactly are chia seeds?

Salvia hispanica is a flowering plant that belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae. This annual herb is produced chiefly for its tiny, oval-shaped seeds, which are often mottled with black, brown, white, or grey hues. Also known as Mexican or Salba chia, the seeds are shiny and have a silky texture,

When chia seeds are soaked in liquids, they swell more than ten times their weight, forming a hydrophilic gel — an easily-digested, hydrating protein.

The similar seeds of Salvia columbariae are commonly referred to as golden or desert chia, chia sage, or simply chia. They were an important food source for the natives of the western United States, who also used it medicinally to reduce fevers, boost strength, and cleanse the eyes with their mucilaginous properties.


Chia seeds have been traced back to Mayan, Aztec, and Incan cultures, which regarded chia as a staple food — an essential energy source that could support the body for extended periods of time. Most of their warriors ate chia seeds to replenish their life energy, potential, strength, and tenacity, which allowed them to fight for lengthy periods of time. In the Mayan language, chia means “strong.”

Chia seeds are indigenous to Central and South America, including Guatemala and Mexico. It is grown in warm climates around the world for its nutritious, edible seeds.

Delicious lemon muffins with chia seeds. (Image: Lucys Fit Life via Flickr CC By 2.0)

Culinary uses

Chia seeds are very high in fiber and have many additional nutrients. They are incredibly versatile and can be easily added to a variety of dishes — no cooking necessary. Their mild, nutty flavor can be enjoyed in puddings, salads, soups, breads and cereals. Chia’s hygroscopic properties make it a good thickener and binder. Adding a few tablespoons of soaked chia seeds to sauces, baked goods, dips, meatballs, etc. adds texture, moisture and nutrition.

Vegan chia pudding recipe

This simple and flexible recipe makes a healthy snack that resembles tapioca pudding or Jello.

  • 2 cups non-dairy milk or fruit juice of your choice (feel free to use regular cow’s milk if you have no issues with dairy).
  • 6 Tbsp chia seeds 
  • 1 tsp vanilla or other natural flavoring
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Xylitol  or other sweetener to taste (milks that are mildly sweet to begin with may not need any sweetener at all).

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate overnight. 

Top with fresh or frozen fruit for a refreshing and healthy treat.

Chia seed pudding (Image: Анастасия Белоусова via Pixabay)

Benefits of chia seeds

Like flax seeds, chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient for mental and physical health. Omega-3 has been shown to help fight depression and anxiety, improve heart and eye health, and reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Chia seeds are also an excellent source of vegan protein, complete with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals such as copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, manganese, and selenium. 

High in fiber, low in calories, chia seeds are a natural weight loss supplement. They also inhibit the appetite by expanding with liquid to make the stomach feel full; deterring you from consuming the in-between snacks that lead to weight gain. For diabetics, fiber helps lower blood sugar levels and supports insulin production in the body. 

When you eat chia gel, you are also consuming the liquid in which it is moistened. This makes it an excellent internal moisturizer, resulting in luminous, radiant skin. Consuming chia seeds before a marathon, lengthy travel, or sleep is considered wise due to their hydrating properties.

Calcium not only strengthens teeth and bones but also moisturizes dry, parched skin. This nutrient, when supplied by the chia seed, nourishes the skin and moisturizes for long hours. It is a great addition to the diet for those who can’t get their calcium from dairy.

Chia seeds also contain antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals. Vitamin E, in particular, is essential for keeping the skin smooth and healthy. Selenium, also present in chia seeds, works as an antioxidant and aids in the increased absorption of vitamin E. It also eliminates pollutants from the body by removing free radicals.

Chia pets are edible and easy-to-care-for! (Image: thepiratescove via DuckDuckGo)

Chia pets

With the 1977 introduction of chia pets, chia became a household name. Placed in a terra clay effigy of any shape, moistened chia seeds sprout to form a hair-like covering, for an interesting and lively object de art. They are an easy and fun way to grow sprouts, which can then be harvested and eaten raw or cooked. The figure can then be washed and refilled with fresh seeds for one sprouting adventure after another.

Chia sprouts can be separated and grown to maturity if planted outdoors at a spacing of 12 inches. (Image: graibeard via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Chia seeds are so nutritious and versatile, there are few better ways to boost energy and health than including them in your diet. If you live in a USDA plant hardiness zone 8 or above, you can grow your own chia seeds! Like most mints, it is easy to cultivate. The plants may reach five feet tall before they flower and produce seed, which requires a long, warm season.