According to the USDA PLANTS database, chia is naturalized (grows wild) in Florida, Texas and New York. More information is available at the link. The New York occurrence has to be an error. More research is needed.
Some time ago I received this question from a reader:
From: J.B. Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 8:20 PM To: 'Margaret Conover' Subject: RE: L.
you also know why Salvia hispanica has the ’L.’ in its name? Are there
other varieties (A., B., C., D.)? To my knowledge L. is ‘alba’ in
greek, but what does it mean in the name of a plant? I hope you can
clarify this for me.
Thank you very much for your time to answer my questions.
Best Regards, J.B.
Here's my response:
Clever guess, but no. There's no A., B., C. variety of chia!!
The "L." stands for the name of the botanist who first gave this plant its name: Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus was the Swedish botanist who invented our modern binomial (two name) system of naming plants and who is responsible for naming 9,000 of our most common plant species.
Linnaeus first named this plant Salvia hispanica based upon his belief that chia is native to Spain (rather than Mexico). Linnaeus' herbarium collection of pressed plant specimens is available on the web.
Here are links to websites featuring Linnaeus' original chia specimens, preserved for about 250 years.
So to review: The complete botanical name of chia is: Salvia hispanica L.
Notice that "Salvia" is capitalized and that both "Salvia" and "hispanica" are italicized. Sometimes, you will see them underlined, instead. This is because they are Latin words!
The "L." represents the author's name and it is never capitalized or underlined, because it's in English.
Sometimes among botanists, there is confusion or disagreement about the species that is being discussed, because it is not always clear whether two similar populations are separate species. At that point, these experts would need to refer to the original published descriptions of the plants, and compare different author's interpretations.
So in a technical botanical publication, the author's name is important. In popular publications, it really isn't necessary. Regarding the correct name for chia, there is never any disagreement, and the "L." may be omitted in most cases.
So, in my opinion, Salvia hispanica is the best name for chia.
In the remote mountainous regions of Oaxaca, Mexico, you can get a kind of lemonade made with whole chia seeds. It's called "chia fresca."
The chia seeds float around in the liquid and the gelcoat becomes concentrated with lemonade flavor. The seeds slide down real easy, and the drink is delicious and refreshing. (I've made it for a few friends who have said they really enjoy it.)
In the glass, chia fresca looks something like this:
But WAIT A MINUTE, Mayor Linseed, that's
a photo of an entirely different drink; a drink that's made from seeds grown in Thailand.
It's Basil Seed Drink (with Honey)!
Last week, I found a can of this drink at my local oriental grocery for only $.89.
Deborah Small has recently written about
thistle chia, aka thistle sage, or Salvia carduacea, with its unworldly flowers. She took this
photograph on the Cahuilla Reservation.
The highly nutritious seeds have been eaten by indigenous people in the region for hundreds of years. According to Cahuilla elder Katherine Siva Saubell in Temalpakh,
the high protein thistle sage seeds were gathered “in great quantities,
parched, ground into flour, and mixed with other plant seeds for mush.”
Back in 1998, (when he should have been working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Surf Clams at the
Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences of Rutgers University), Eric J. Weissberger published this entertaining but superficial treatment of the evolution of chia pets in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR).
AIR is the organization that each year awards The Ig Nobel Prize to honor achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think".
The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative
-- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology. Last year the Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry went to Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan,
for developing a way to extract vanillin -- vanilla fragrance and flavoring
-- from cow dung.
Anyway, Dr. Weissberger investigated the family Chiaceae (chia pets), which he claims is the first known missing link between plants and animals. He discusses the nature of the cardboard cocoon and the role played by the human host in facilitating the synchronous hatching of chia pets on December 25th each year.
Dr. Weissberger speculations that chia pets are descended from a common ancestor (i.e., they are monophyletic), but acknowledges that convergent evolution cannot be ruled out from the (non-existent) fossil record.
He goes on to suggest that chia pets may, in fact, be closely related to humans, as evidenced by the existence of the Chia Professor!
Unfortunately, Dr. Weissberger now works at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has turned his back on his earlier work with chia pets. He has become known as an expert on surf clams!