The Chia seed history
Chia has been cultivated for thousands of years in Mesoamerica. Historical records that survived the Spanish conquest show that the crops of the Valley of Tehuacan, near present day Mexico City, had included chia since 3400 BC (Schery, 1972; Solbrig and Solbrig, 1990; Harlan, 1992; Rodriquez Vallejo, 1992).
At the time of the conquest, amaranth, corn, beans, and chia were the main components of the daily diet of Mesoamerica. Chia was prized not only for its nutritional value, but also as an important medicinal, especially for illness involving fevers or coughs (Anderson and Dibble, 1963:181; Hernandez, 1576:49; Planchon and Collin, 1895).
The Spanish conquest suppressed the natives and their traditions, and destroyed most of the intensive agricultural production and commercialization system that had existed. Many indigenous crops were banned by the Spanish because of their close association with religion. Many others were replaced by foreign species that were in demand in European markets (Soustelle, 1955; Engel, 1987).
Flours of amaranth and chia were used ceremonially by the Aztec, who made images of gods from dough that were cut into pieces and then eaten at the end of religious ceremonies. The similarities of this custom to Catholic communion horrified the friars, causing them to denounce this ceremony as heresy and discourage to cultivation of these crops (Sahagun, 1579; Duran, 1570, Solis, 1770).
Chia managed to survive extinction as a crop by small groups of indigenous people in the mountains of Guatemala and southwestern Mexico.
Currently, there are about 150 different types of agricultural crops worldwide (out of a total of about 250,000 plant species). In contrast, the pre-Columbian Aztec empire had 229 different types of cultivated crop plants. Today, 12 crops provide for the diets of over 75% of the world population, with 4 crops providing over half of the food eaten worldwide (wheat, rice, corn, & soybeans). There is much scientific evidence that this restricted diet plays an important role in the most prevalent ailments found in developed nations, such as cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, and cancer. These diseases are not as common in undeveloped nations where diets include as many as 200 different species of plants.
The cultivation of Chia requires a long growing season, so it could only be cultivated in southern Texas and California in the US. It is currently being grown commercially from Argentina and Bolivia, through Central American to Mexico and the United States.