How to Grow Chia Seeds

Pale blue flowers on a stalk with fuzzy green leaves
The chia plant is drought tolerant and grows in dry sandy soil; this plant in Costa Rica was growing a stand by a dusty roadside.

Dick Culbert / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

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
Common Name Chia
Plant Type Annual
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
Toxicity Non toxic
Small brown seeds spread out on a round wooden cutting board
Chia seeds are full of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and antioxidants.  Brent Hofacker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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.

Light

Chia plants do best in full sun. They're very tolerant of heat, even in the hottest days of summer.

Soil

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.

Water

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.