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.
Bulletin de la Societe Botanique de France, 1882, Book 29. Pg 138-139. Chia seeds, by M. Hiland Flowers (the American Journal of Pharmacy, May 1882).
(Translated from the French) These are the seeds of Salvia hispanica which, despite the name, is from America, as is common knowledge. It grows in the northern regions of Mexico. The oil extracted from this seed is even better than flax oil for certain industrial uses. It is also used in preparing a refreshing beverage. To one glass of cold water, add a spoonful of seeds and a bit of orange blossom water. This beverage is an emollient and a soothing agent in any illness accompanied by fever. The gelatinous substance that the seeds produce is used for the same pharmaceutical purposes for which we use flax seeds. For the aforementioned reasons, and for that of trying to lower its price (now 60 cents per pound), people are starting to cultivate it in the United States, specifically in Pennsylvania.
Footnote: This sage is probably not the only seed in America whose seeds produce a gelatinous substance and which are used for medicinal or nutritional purposes. Dr. Edward Palmer, who is responsible for important recent botanical explorations of the northern regions of Mexico and the western states of the American Union, wrote a paper on plants used by the Native Americans. He established that the chia of Mexico, of New Mexico and of Arizona is produced by Salvia columbariae Benth. Mr. A. Gray, in his Botany of California, vol. 1, p 599, holds the same opinion, as does Mr. Rothrock in his Report Upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, vol. 6, p 48. Rothrock’s book explains that prospectors in California made good use of the seeds called chia, which are those of Salvia columbariae. Large quantities were found in graves dating from several centuries back (see Bankroft, The Native Races of the Pacific States, vol.2 pp. 232, 280, 347, 360). It appears that the Aztecs grew chia regularly, much as the Egyptians grew flax, the containers of which are found in their graves. The Nahuatl name for this plant is actually "chia", or more correctly "chianzotzotl". Thus was it described under the name of Salvia chian by La Llave.
In France Guibourt classified the seeds in question under the name of Salvia hispanica L. (see his Natural History of Simple Drugs, 4th ed. 11, p. 432 and his Observations on the Products of Mexico, published in 1866). He even had the plant cultivated in the gardens at the School of Pharmacy where, unfortunately, it did not take. The Pharmacopoea Mexicana which appeared in the town of Puebla, Mexico in 1832 also speaks of Salvia hispanica. Let us add to the information provided in the same issue of the American Journal of Pharmacy by Mr. John M Maisch, that the best proof of chia’s origin is that there are 3 distinct varieties (Fray Bernardino de Sahugun, General History of Things from “New Spain,” p. 537 and 624). These difficulties present a promising thesis subject for a young pharmacist.
MY COMMENTS: In American schools, students are now being taught to consult primary sources such as scholarly articles, research papers, correspondence, maps, and photographs. It is no longer sufficient to rely upon the encyclopedia (or Wikipedia). This historic article, which was published in the Journal of the Botanical Society of France, is an excellent primary source.
So what does this article mean? The main paragraph summarizes some uses of chia that were common in 1882. The footnote, however, is a muddle, at best. It describes the confusion about which species of chia is used.
Apparently some "young pharmacist" did come along and sort out "these difficulties" because we now know that Salvia hispanica was used throughout Mexico and that Salvia columbariae was used by native Americans in the United States. (But remember that when this article was written there were only 38 states! )
Anyway, I've been collecting primary sources addressing the uses of chia seeds, and I'll add some of them here from time to time. I hope you find them interesting.
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.
Kayleen said, “Salba is NOT just a registered trademark for chia
seeds. That is like saying a yellow rose is the same as a red rose.”
That’s not quite right.
I’m a botanist. Botanically, the two forms of Salvia hispanica
(black seeded and white seeded) are simply varieties. But the black
seeded type (which includes about 1/4 white seeds) seems to be the
“wild type.” It seems that the white seeded variety has been
selectively bred from the wild type until no more black seeds appear.
So to improve on Kayleen’s analogy:
“Salba is NOT just a registered trademark for chia seeds. That is
like saying a wild rose is the same as an American Beauty Rose.”
(OK, that's weird to be quoting myself.)
So Leisure Guy, I really enjoy your blog so I hope you make it over here and take a moment to leave me a comment.
Update 9/14/2013: I believe that the plant identified here as Salvia hispanica is actually a different Salvia. There are hundreds of different Salvia species out there, so I'm sure it's easy to make a mistake. I've emailed him for confirmation.