A Long Growing Season
Chia plants, part of the mint family, are native to Mexico and Central America. They prefer tropical and subtropical climates, although modern crop management has extended their reach to the American Southwest, including some parts of coastal California, and even the Central United States.
Ranging in height from three to six feet, chia is an annual plant with a long growing season. Yields can be low in areas that experience frost, as plants may be damaged by frost before their flowers are set. Mature chia plants are drought tolerant and will produce tall, spiked flower heads with lavender petals. Over time, these spikes fill out into a seed head. Flowering chia plants are a lovely addition to any garden and will attract native insects and birds.
Drying Chia Seeds
As flowering seed heads start to lose their petals, cut them off and place them in a paper bag to dry completely. The drying process may take weeks. If you hang your flower heads upside down to dry, you risk losing the seeds. If you allow your seed heads to dry on the plant in the garden, you risk losing them to rain, wind, and birds.
Harvesting Chia Seeds
Once the flower heads have dried completely, there are several ways to harvest the seeds inside. You can close the paper bag tightly and shake it well, separating the seeds from the flower debris (commonly known as chaff). Another method for harvesting your seeds is to simply lay the dried seed head in your palm and with your other palm on top, simply rub and crush the seed head. The seeds will separate and any kind of small draft (from the wind or your breath) will separate the seeds from the chaff. This process is called “winnowing.” You can also run the seeds through a flour sifter to separate them from natural debris.
It is difficult to find reliable seed yield information for the home gardener. From what I have seen, it appears that a single, mature seed head will yield ½ - 1 teaspoon of seeds. Once dried, chia seeds can be stored in a cool, dry place – or in your freezer for an extended period of time. For some tips on simple ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet, see my blog post here!