Oats (Avena sativa)
by Lara Pacheco
Other Names: Oat Seed, Cat grass, Wild Oats
Description/Taxonomy: In the Poaceae/Gramineae (Grass family)
History, Ethnobotany, and Folklore:
Milky Oats, a slender grass with seed pods that ooze a milky white liquid when immature, are also milled into oatmeal when it becomes seed. The immature seed, straw, oats have long been prized for its medicinal properties. Eclectic physician Finley Ellingwood in the 19th century, described Avena as a “remedy of great utility in loss of nerve power and in muscular feebleness from lack of nerve force.” H.W. Felter, another well known Eclectic, had said that its chief value in medicine “is to energize in nervous exhaustion with or without spasms”. In this regard, Milky Oats seems to best achieve this through its trophorestorative properties to the nervous system.
Milky Oats reveals its most folkloric roots in the age old preparation of Oatmeal and/or Gruel, and Porridge. In many Eclectic traditions, oatmeal made into the consistency of milk applied when children were malnourished and suffering from ‘summer diarrhoeal disorders’. In this category of gastric distress it has also been indicated for adults in dysentery as a demulcent drink in the consistency of milk.
Parts Used: Fresh milky seeds (immature), Stems dried for oatstraw, Mature seeds dried for oats
Cultivation and Harvest:
Milky Oats is a useful and versatile plant. It is easy to grow, and has uses in your home apothecary, tea cabinet and garden. The immature seed pod yields its succulent milky juice for a potent medicine. The stems and leaves can be harvested and dried for oat straw, that makes a nourishing tea. And the plant and roots make an excellent cover crop or green manure. This versatility and utility makes Milky Oat one my all time favorite herbs to cultivate and harvest.
In my garden I use Milky Oats not just for its medicinal virtues, I also use the plant to provide therapy for the soil. It can act as a cover crop to help protect, rebuild and give rest to soil that has been cultivated. The roots of Milky Oats stabilize soil and are especially good at bioaccumulating calcium and magnesium. So when turned over in the soil these nutrients are slowly released back into the garden for use by future rotations.
The way we treat the soil in our capitalist system is akin to how we marginalize and mistreat people. In our industrial agricultural system, soil is reduced to a simple inorganic one dimensional means of production that is put under a great deal of stress to constantly maximize high yields of the same crop, year after year. In the same way capitalist culture treats people as simple means of production and/or consumers of so called “goods.” In both the case of soil and people this system denies the rich diversity and totality of existence.
I strive for a permaculture, or a culture that sustains and nourishes life. In this sense Milky Oats is a part of my garden apothecary. Traditional farming systems, which are inspiration for my own, practice rotations in which some land is given rest. This is to nurture a highly complex ecosystem of fungi and bacteria to name but a few. Which gives rise to an inherently healthy and vibrant soil and in a system of permaculture the land is mostly dedicated to perennial crops that nourish a whole ecosystem. Milky oats can be grown to both pick off those tender buds full of medicinal sap, and then turned over into the soil and left to decompose, in the process bringing back nutrients to the soil.
In a similar way, Avena also help to nourish and bring rest to the nervous system of those that have been overworked, rejected, and traumatized. One may also harvest some of the stems and dry to make it into Oatstraw and use as tea, however it is not the equivalent to the fresh buds and the therapeutic value that they hold as a trophorestorative. The magic in sowing Avena lies in its simplicity. You only need to scatter and toss on a recently cultivated bed and lightly tamper to protect from birds and the elements in the early Spring.
Then arrives the time of the seasonal transition between the closure of Spring and the awning of Summer in which the buds stand the truest test between your fingers and exhibit the purest pop and burst that releases the therapeutic sap. Once the seeds release a milky latex upon pressure, you can then collect them to preserve as fresh plant tincture, freeze for later processing, or even as a succus.
Tonic, Nervine, Relaxant, Stimulant, Antispasmodic, Anti-depressant, Nutritive, demulcent (especially as porridge), Vulnerary, Endocrine Restorative
Proteins like the glutenous Avenins, C-glycosyl flavones, avenacosides, saponins, sterols, calcium, magnesium and Vitamin E, Vitamin B. Straw rich in silicic acid; mucin and calcium.
Energetics and Taste:
Sweet, Nutritive, Neutral, Cooling, Soothing, Slightly moistening
● Nervous system
Here we get to revisit with the term, trophorestorative, which means that its therapy lies in a more long term use in building the system in which it is working to restore. In this case, that is for the nervous system and in particular, the autonomic and enteric (gastrointestinal) nervous systems that function involuntarily. A person whose sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), is consistently triggered over a long term basis will overall tax that of the entire organ systems that give rise to the vital force. This not only leads to higher blood pressure, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, poor digestion, and insomnia due to cortisol dysregulation, but also a person further on edge who might seek immediate fixes to help with the exhaustion and possible pain, thus potentially leading to addictions.
Michael Moore described Milky Oats as ‘crispy critter medicine’ which playfully captures that of whom has lived out in the world and has been overworked. The earlier allusion I had made in regards to this medicine for the oppressed stands as the best medicine for those who are considered not good enough and dispensable by our dominant culture’s standards. We live in a world where a great deal of privilege lies in for those who are Christian, white, cis gendered male. If you are otherwise, you experience a degree of marginalization and more so depending on the color of your skin and gender thus dictating which neighborhood you live in, education and access to employment, housing and a livable wage. Like the over toiled soil abused for highest yield of monocropped grain or vegetable, such is the case for people’s minds, bodies, and health compromised for the purpose of yielding some type of commodity or product for the marketplace. This exhaustion from overwork and internalization of not feeling good enough by a dominant culture’s standards lead to a perpetual state of stress and an overstimulation of the nervous system. Something as accessible as Milky Oats to sow in one’s garden bed or pot to bring healing to soil can powerfully yet gently support the most marginalized.
As a nervine, Avena lies neither on the sedative influence, but more as a gentle restorative that reaps its benefit over a daily, long term use. I imagine it as herbal milk and its color once pressed suggests that. In nervous dyspepsia in which the GI Tract is hypofunctioning along with over exhaustion from a stressful lifestyle that causes nervous tension and a bad diet, Avena can help here. At times when there is poor absorption in digestion due to stress, over time there can be muscular feebleness in which Milky Oats also helps. Once the nervous system over time is restored, other systems like the endocrine and cardiovascular follow along with addressing the triggers to the stress.
Specific Indication- A war veteran or someone who has suffered abuse and experiences PTSD, struggling with various addictions, lack of sexual libido with mental and muscular feebleness and heart palpitations. Has been used for people kicking addictions and that are on edge due to physical side effects of releasing a habit.
● Hawthorn- This along with Milky Oats is greatly utilized for someone that either experienced sudden loss, especially as freshly juiced (Kiva Rose) or along with heart palpitations.
● Skullcap-Used along with Avena for when someone is experiencing muscular pain and weakness and/or reacts intensely to being touched and also for depression.
● Most adaptogens, especially Ashwagandha for someone with Iron deficiency anemia, insomnia and eating disorders.
Dosage and Method of Delivery:
Tincture 1:2 ratio- 80-100 drops 2-4x a day
Glycerite 1:2 ratio- 120-140 drops, 2-4x a day
450 g/1LB of straw boiled in 4 PT of water for 30 minutes. Strain liquid in bath for external use in the case of neuralgia and irritated skin.
As porridge for someone greatly weak, unable to eat much food
Contraindicated for folks diagnosed with celiac disease
1. Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy: developing the latest acquired Knowledge of Drugs, and especially of the direct Action of single Drugs upon exact Conditions of Disease, with especial Reference to the Therapeu tics of the Plant Drugs of the Plant Drugs of the Americas. - Evanston [Ill.] : Ellinwood's Therapeutist, 1919.
2. Felter, H.W. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Eclectic Medical Publications. 1922.
3. Hoffman, David. Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Element books. 1996.
4. Rose, Kiva. Accessed online January 2017. Sweet Cream: The Medicine of Milky Oats: http://bearmedicineherbals.com/sweet-cream-the-medicine-of-milky-oats.html
5. Yance, Donald. Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease. Healing Arts Press, 2013.