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Dirty little secrets that your Chia Pet never told you

Dirty little secrets that your Chia Pet never told you

Founding POOF member Edna Dixon sent us some valid questions about the cultivation of salvia in the Southern Appalachians during the time when Hernando de Soto was touring his planned realm.   Did they grow salvia to get zonked with Millie Cyrus?   If not, why would they grow so much salvia instead of corn?  

PS  – After reading the initial article, Edna wrote me back to clarify that she was wondering if there was a religious function to the  salvia.  Perhaps the Chiaha priests used the psychedelic effects of some varieties of salvia to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

A variety of Salvia that is psychodelic

A variety of Salvia that is psychedelic

Good question!   Actually,  the Castilian chroniclers never told us why the people of Chiaha Province were growing salvia.   We can only speculate.    One would think that if the Chiaha’s filled the river bottom lands with salvia fields, the use of their salvia would be something more than getting zonked.

Salvia-PlainsSageEven though the Itza Mayas were known for growing salvia in their native highlands, there are also indigenous varieties of salvia in North America.  Several of those native varieties are known as sage.  Their leaves were burned by indigenous Americans as an incense and spiritual purifier.   It  seems unlikely that the people of Chiaha would grow such large quantities of sage just for export to other provinces as an incense.

rabbit-tobaccoThe best that I can determine is that the Uchees, Chickasaws and Creeks preferred to use Rabbit Tobacco (Gnaphalium purpureum) as an incense. Rabbit Tobacco smelled better, worked well as a tick and mosquito repellent, plus was an excellent medicine for chest congestion.   The Rabbit Tobacco that is so ubiquitous in the Southeast today is actually a feral crop, formerly cultivated by the Creeks. 

For unknown reasons the Maya crop, chia, was given the botanical name "Salvia hispanica". To add insult to injury, some Gringo wrote in Wikipedia that the word "chia" is Spanish in origin and derived from Lucia! NOT! It is an ancient Itza word.

For unknown reasons the Maya crop, chia, was given the botanical name “Salvia hispanica”. To add insult to injury, some Gringo wrote in Wikipedia that the word “chia” is Spanish in origin and derived from Lucia! NOT! It is an ancient Itza word.

The Itza Mayas grew a domesticated variety of salvia as food crop!  It is still grown commercially in Southern Mexico.  You are much more familiar with this food crop that you probably realize.  If you recall the recent POOF article on Chiaha,  the Itza word for salvia was Chia.   Highly nutritious chia seeds are just one more of the many food crops that the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

A stingless Maya honey bee

A stingless Maya honey bee

There is another connection with the article on Chiapas.   Edna Dixon did some research and found that the Maya honey bees just LOVE chia (salvia)  so a by-product of the expansive fields of salvia in the Smokies would have been authentic Smoky Mountain Maya Salvia Honey . . .  sounds better than sorghum syrup.

Now you guessed it.   The seeds that you plant on a Chia Pet are one and the same as the ancient crop grown by the Itza Mayas, both in Chiapas and in the Southern Appalachians.  I strongly suspect that Chia was also grown elsewhere by Muskogeans.  Most likely when forensic botanists have found Chia pollen grains in Southeastern archeological sites, they have ignored them or else assumed them to be weeds.

May is National Archaeological Month.  Show your state’s archaeologists that you still love them despite the wayward paths that some of their peers have taken.  Send them a Chia Pet and copies of the Creek Migration Legends, where our ancestors described their journeys from the tropics to North America.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    out west, my Creek grandfather & my uncles rolled their own cigarettes & sprinkled different herbs from grandmother’s garden. She grew among many other plants, tamarind (for black tea & jam) , poppies, salvia, desert willow (wound healer poultice) & toothache tree (numbs away pain) . Sage was/is everywhere wild.


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