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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The Mexican mint plant with a bang
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Chia's not all you think. Didn't know you could actually smoke that Homer head? (Yes, you can buy a chia plant that grows out of Homer's massive cranium.) But that ain't the smokable variety, actually, it's a cousin in the giant Salvia clan.

Of a zillion species, the Salvia you usually eat is sage--or drink, if you love The Linkery, North Park's delish farm-to-table eatery that serves a divine white sage water in a chilled carafe--or inhale if you're a Native American in a cleansing rite--or brush against if you're a witless hiker in California's coastal sagebrush, what's left of it.

The naughty little smokin' number is Salvia X5, X10, X15...X40--the trendy alternative reality vacation fueled by powdered leaves of Salvia divinorum dropped into a bong, pipe, or lit potato, depending on your level of sophistication.

The higher the X-factor, the longer your freaky little trip. The equivalent of dialing the amp to eleven is X45, and you'll need a spinal tap after that.

This Salvia X-number is actually legal and yet too scary for a control freak like me who likes to keep tabs on her brain or at least not savor the sensation of her brain getting [a] hit with an IED then melting like Mt Pinatubo.

For me, I get a bang out of the tamer Homer-type chia seeds. I drink ‘em.

I'm talking about the Salvia hispanica variety (in Linnaeus' stuffy European taxonomy): Nahual-speaking ancients and their descendants from here to Costa Rica call it chía (translates to "oily"--ancient Indians were way ahead of us on the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids).

The Mexican state of Chiapas means chia water or river, says Wikipedia. I wanna go there, mecca-style, because now I'm addicted to the damned seeds. Perhaps the ancient Olmecs or Mayans left some sorta shrine there with magic seeds to plant so I don't have to keep ordering them online.

These teeny tiny taxicabs of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, fiber, calcium, boron are chock full of fashionable antioxidants like quercetin, powerhouses of protein. They keep me going now that a Snicker bar won't do.

I know about these delightful little seeds from two places.

Fifteen years ago, during the late Pleistocene, I edited a 567-page tome called The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica written by a spry Muriel Weaver for the third time. She was probably as old as the ancient Toltecs and not to be trifled with.

Muriel wrote, ‘eating nothing but a handful of the chia seeds enabled an Aztec warrior to march for 24 hours without additional food and water.' I'm paraphrasing, because the hell if I can't find her original sentence. Even though I edited that whole damn index. This stuff was so good it was used as commerce.

It's Money, man. It's a mint.

Inspired to try this miracle marching food, I searched Henry's, Whole Foods, any funky place that might market such a seedy wonder. But it was the early 90s. No one with any marketing savvy had heard about it. No one but me and a few hardened academics had ever and will ever read Muriel's book. The folks down in Chíapas have been chowing it uninterrupted for thousands of years, I'm sure.

A seedless decade and a half go by. Irma, a likely descendant of these lucky chia-eaters and possible smokers, even hails from the region and would prefer living there if only she could, comes once a week to save us from squalor. A friend recommended her, disgusted with our bourgeoisie DIY housecleaning mentality, because we never had time to socialize on weekends, no, just clean clean clean, sorry, we don't have time.

We met Irma. She's right up there with the most important lifesaving things in our budget; in fact, we made her a member of the family. I give her cilantro and guavas from the garden, she gives me grief for trying to help her clean. Our first attempt at hiring a housecleaner--named Joy, of all things--taught us to worship housecleaning quality. Joy was this gorgeous tiny thing with perfect makeup and hair, a charming rural drawl, drove a giant shiny green Ford Expedition, and whipped through our condo in a somewhat carefree manner, charging us nearly nothing. Her housecleaning business must have been a front for bringing Meth in from East County (we lived in Hillcrest at the time), because she eventually dropped us. Couldn't afford us.

I'm getting somewhere with this. Trust me.

It was Irma who came into my life to tell me about ‘these amazing chia seeds' nearly two decades after I read about and gave up on them. Her brother is "diabetico and he takes them, no more diabetes! His blood sugar--better! He loss weight, he have more energy! I take it. I have energy! You should take it! I get you some. No, really, I get you some!" I'm chronically tired from insomnia, but no matter, Irma correctly diagnosed my listless, ennervated state and prescribed me chia.

Next week I found a little baggie full of creepy little round, gray-black seeds atop "Irma's" shining microwave. Thank you Irma! I followed the directions, adding water. After 20 minutes the seeds thicken into a tasteless viscous sludge. So I add Emergen-C acaí berry powder (from Trader Joe's) and drink/munch the little creatures down. Yum. My kids are completely grossed out. As usual.

What's weird, is that I run around, hauling girls through morning routines, jamming to school, summer camp, lessons, yoga, sports, playdates, this or that goddamn errand--and instead of freaking that I've broken that Must Eat Breakfast mandate (skinnier people eat breakfast-it's the 11:00 onset of starvation that causes the rest of us to binge), I recall, with warriorlike strength, that I can march for 24 hours with no food or water on a handful of chia seeds.

I make it to my well-balanced late breakfasts or lunches unstressed, without the attitude from a blood sugar dive. Anxiety is always gnawing at my stomach: I typically mistake that sensation for hunger or for a void that needs to be filled. Which is why I call overeating Void-stuffing. (I should trademark that phrase into some kind of savvy Chia marketing campaign, if I weren't so lazy.) I don't think I'm having the blood sugar dips now. The chia seeds have gone on to absorb all the water from my body, sucking it into my stomach to gel for hours.

Ch-Ch-Ch-chia seeds save me from myself.

So if you get a chia kit for a present, eat it, dammit, Homer doesn't need hair. Enjoy your seedy slurry of agua fresca, or chia fresca. I get you some online, really!

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A Magic Lunch

In third grade we read a cleverly-written fiction novel based on the author's extensive experiences with our local Kumeyaay. Chapter 5 of Indians of the Oaks by Melicent Lee, A Magic Lunch, describes the Kumeyaay use of, you guessed it!, the chia seed to sustain them during their long hunting/gathering expeditions. Every student in my class had the opportunity to try a chia seed, to let it sit on his/her tongue and feel it turn to mush.... I'm fairly certain the finicky third grader you love so dearly passed on the opportunity. :-)

While the book is hard to come by (I ordered mine online and also found a few in the Anza-Borrego Desert gift shop), it is well worth the effort and a fun way to learn more about our local history.

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seeds not leaves

All the verbal comments I've gotten on this are "so where do I get the leaves?" OK, so the conversation was at a bar. Thanks for telling me about Lee's book. It's vaguely familiar--I may have read it years ago or saw it at a gift shop or powwow. I believe Megan or Maeve wanted me to read that after reading it in class--so now I will look for it. Thanks for telling me about it, down to the chapter! I will ask Megan about it.

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book

I have a copy you can borrow!