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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkHealth & Beauty 

Chian: Ancient Gifts from the Gods
email this pageprint this pageemail usLeslie Korn & Rudolph Ryser - PVNN
May 25, 2010



Image of a Chian plant and eating a tamale made of Chia.
The healing traditions of West Mexico reflect the rich diversity of the peoples, the earth and sea of the region. West Mexico, including the Municipios of Cabo Corrientes and Puerto Vallarta have a pharmacy of herbal medicines that indigenous peoples have used for millennia.

Many indigenous foods of Mexico provide both nutrients and medicines for the body and mind. One of the most remarkable plants, originating in west Mexico is chian. Chian is a species of self-pollinating, flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae that is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.

Chian is slowly being restored to its place of importance among essential foods in the Americas. The ancient peoples of Mexico knew well the energetic seed and their descendants and a growing number of newcomers today continue to plant and harvest Chian today.

Chian, popularly known as "Chia," "Chia Sage," "Salba," and "Mila" (Salvia Hispanica) is one of the most important plant foods and medicines native to Mexico. The tiny mottled black and white seed grows wild in the highlands of Michoacán, and in the forests of Cabo Corrientes and throughout Jalisco and is planted for commercial purposes on domesticated plots of land in the highlands of Jalisco. Chian is a Nahuatl word meaning "by the water." When the Spanish arrived they did not hear the "n" of chian and the word chia evolved.

The black chian is favored for its oil and used to make paints and protect paintings while the white chian is favored for its culinary uses. Both Chian varieties were nearly wiped out as a food plant after the Spaniards arrived due to their deliberate effort to destroy traditional rituals that employed chian in the creation of images of ancient gods.

Nevertheless, remote communities and peoples in the highlands distant from major population centers maintained small milpas (farming plots) and persisted in the cultivation of chian, now mixing the black and white varieties. The popular use of chia, in agua de chia, in which just a few seeds float in lemonade, derives from the need to use chain but hide its importance from the Spanish as a ceremonial plant.

Mexico is the leading producer of Chian in the world, producing over 4 million pounds annually. The Mexican government provides land to chian farmers to use at no charge. Chian requires special growing conditions and cannot grow north of the 20th parallel. Its growth requires mountainous altitude between 1500 to 5000 feet above sea level. Plants grown north of Jalisco appear to lose their essential fatty acid balance.

Chian has its literal and figurative roots in Jalisco and west Mexico. It is grown commercially in the towns of Zapotlanejo and Acatic in Jalisco just north of Lake Chapala; and in Michoacán, Colima and Guerrero. Acatic's chian growers are responsible, through cultural transmission of traditional planting and harvesting methods, for perpetuating production in modern Mexico.

Health Benefits

Between 3500 and 2100 years before the present, chian served as one of four main foods (maize, frijole, and amaranth) supporting the original civilizations of Mexico. All of these foods were originally used to make a morning and evening gruel called atole. Hundreds of varieties of tamales (Tamalli) and tortillas (Tlaxcalli) were made from combinations of these ingredients - chian playing a major role.

Used today mainly in aguas, with lime (agua de chia) or with other agua frescas this drink represents a vestige of a rich heritage of use equal or greater in importance than corn, beans, squash and chilies - all of which continue to provide the foundation of health for the peoples of Mexico. The traditional diets of the peoples of west Mexico were among the healthiest in the world and there was no diabetes type 2 until diets changed alongside the introduction of refined flour and sugar.

Chian is a rich source of essential fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Many of Chian's medicinal qualities derive from its abundant source of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Chian seed is 63% oil and the richest plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids with a perfect ratio of 1-2 between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. This makes it an ideal food to alleviate depression and anxiety, to reduce inflammatory processes that cause arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Chian seed is rich in iron and quercetin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-allergen.

Chian is also hydrophyllic; it attracts and holds water. Indeed chian holds 12 times its weight in water. This results in body rehydration at the cellular level. These hydrophilic colloids also provide soothing action on the intestines, make a useful food when recovering from dysentery or illness. It also makes a valuable addition to fluid foods for elders or cancer patients who have lost their appetite. It also helps to lose weight as it stimulates metabolism as it reduces the appetite.

Chian also builds muscle, making it ideal for competitive athletes who want endurance and muscle mass. Recent scientific research has also demonstrated that chian reduces visceral fat tissue and thus may benefit diabetics or older athletes trying to shed stubborn belly fat.

Chian may be incorporated for use into one's daily diet in several simple ways as a source of easily digested food that includes rich Omega 3 essential oil:

• For constipation or intestinal regulation
• To add additional protein and omega 3 to the diet
• add it to tamales, pancakes, tortillas, baked breads or muffins
• The whole seed may be added or it may be ground and used as a non-gluten flour similar in action to tapioca.

Recipes

Nutritional: Soak 2 teaspoons overnight in 2 cups water. First thing in the morning, drink the gelatinous mixture for high energy and as an intestinal regulator.

Medicinal: Apply the jelly under inflamed eyelids or as a poultice for wounds. It also calms the nerves.

Family Activities for Home and School

Obtain Chian (Salvia Hispanica) in the grain store. Soak a tablespoon in a large glass of water and leave it overnight. What do you observe? What scientific principle describes how chian has changed? Drink the chian water.

In a spice grinder place three teaspoons of chian and blend for 30 seconds minute make chian flour. Add a teaspoon of chia flour in a mango, pineapple, or durazno drink or yogurt for a rich and nutritious smoothie (be sure to stir the drink lightly for about four minutes before drinking).

Chew and taste the chian seeds. Explore why chian is good for your health and energy. What do indigenous people of Mexico teach us about chian? What do research scientists say?

Read books or go online on the Internet and research photographs and old botanical illustrations as a way to learn about Chian. Ask someone at the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens where to view Chian in the mountains. Take photographs of Chian growing in its natural habitat.

Where to Find Chian

Many grain stores around Puerto Vallarta have chian and sell it by the kilogram. We obtain our chian at Super Cereales y Semillas, Avenue Mexico #1130, Colonia 5 de Febrero.

About the Authors:

Dr. Leslie Korn trained in both the jungle of Mexico and the jungle of Harvard. A long time resident of Cabo Corrientes, she specializes in natural medicine and the prevention and treatment of chronic illness and conducts research on indigenous foods and medicine of Mexico and the United States.

Dr Rudolph Ryser is a Professor of International Relations and founding Chair of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an international non-governmental Indigenous organization. He was recently nominated to serve on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
Dr. Leslie Korn is an educator and clinician-healer specializing in complementary/alternative medicine and indigenous healing methods, who has been conducting research in the Banderas Bay and Cabo Corrientes regions since 1973. To learn more about her work, visit HealthAlt.org.

Click HERE to read more articles by Leslie Korn.



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