... il piacere grandissimo dell'animo, che risulta dall'aspetto delle piante. [...] Il che tanto piu accresce contento all'animo, quanto piu sono periti questi tali nella cognitione, & vera dottrina de i Semplici. Imperò che non si potrebbe con lingua esplicare il piacere, & la giocondità, che ne risultà nell'animo, quando una pianta, lungamente ricercata, si ritrova;
[... the immense spiritual delight which results from looking at plants; [...] The contentment of the soul enhances, the more someone is an expert of the knowledge and the true doctrine of the Simples. For this reason you cannot express with words the pleasure and the jocundity, which springs in your soul, when a plant, long sought for, is found.]
(Matthioli, 1552, in his dedication to cardinal Madruzzo)  Pietro Andrea Matthioli, Il Dioscoride dell'eccellente dottor medico M.P. And. Matthioli da Siena; con li suoi discorsi ... (In Vinegia: appresso Vincenzo Valgrisi alla bottega d'Erasmo, 1552), p. 4.
Oatstraw Avena sativa
Common Oatstraw Botanical Avena Sativa Family Name Poacea Origin Mediterranean
An annual in the poacea family, this plant is a grass which grows up to 0.9m high and 0.1m wide. It is clumping, growing in tufts or single stalks, and flowers in the very early Spring and setting seed during the Summer and Autumn (“Avena sativa Oats, Common oat PFAF Plant Database,” n.d.).
The leaves are erect striate sheaves 3-20mm wide, and large flat blades roll around the axil of the stem. An upright panicle stands 150-300mm tall, with loose fanning side branches that remain close to the stem (“Avena sativa L. | Oats | Plant Encyclopaedia | A.Vogel,” n.d.).
Panicles bear androgynous flowers of two-three ears on inconspicuous spikelets, with each floret containing 3 stamens and a feathery stigma. The ears become pendulous when the seeds ripen. The seeds ripen to a cereal grain, which are single-seeded caryopses, and the pericarp either remains fused to the seed coat or upon ripening, falls naked of the husk (Elpel, 2000, p. 329).
The seeds exude a milky-white latex during their immature stage, and these unripe seed-heads are referred to as ‘milky oats’, where-as the whole plant is commonly called ‘oatstraw’(“Oatstraw – Mountain Rose Herbs,” n.d.).
The plant is frost hardy, and also drought tolerant once established, prefering moist soil in early stages of development. Grown in many different soil types, A. sativa can handle nutritionally poor substrates, and cannot grow in a shady position, as sunlight is a necessity to the germination and development of seed (Mollison, 1988, p. 687).
The plant is said to have spread as an invasive species from the fertile crescent to Europe, decended from A. sterilis, a cross between wheat and barely. Its domestication started around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers near 3000yrs ago, and its distribution became wider as it extended to wetter and cooler climates, where it gained its reputation as a cereal grain and major food staple (Geisler, 2011).
“… Avena’s dwelling places, which are the wide open spaces where the wind and oatgrass make spine tingling music that calls snakes out onto rocks to listen and fills the air with the earth’s own sighs of pleasure”. – Judith Berger (Berger, 1998, p. 63)
Part of Plant Used
Aerial Parts Fresh seeds during latex production, Milky oat tops (unripe seed) (Oats, Milky, & Seed, 2017)
Types of Preparations
Tincture Liquid Extract Poultice Food Cream Bath
Harvesting Guidelines and any Sustainability Issues
There are minimal environmental repercussions to the harvest of A. sativa, as it is considered an invasive species or ‘weed’ in many countries. This is an interesting status for a herb that is freely sown as an agricultural crop in Russia, Canada, Poland, Finland, Australia, the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany (in order of the largest producing country) (Misachi, 2017).
There appears to be no sustainability issues associated with the harvest of this plant, however it is always wise to only take one third of plant material whilst wildcrafting if you wish to harvest again, or in order for other people and species to reap the benefits also (Blakespore, 2011).
Calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B complex, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A & C, fiber and protein (Berger, 1998, p. 65). Oats contain several times the quantity of fat than that of rice.
The primary constituents within A. sativa are carbohydrates in the form of starch and cellulose, as well as complex polysaccharides, which are indicative of their sweet taste. Proteins such as avenins are present, the compounds that many people who are sensitive to oats are allergic to, as well as prolamines (Ganora, 2009).
Flavonoids such as vitexin and apigenin, steroidal sapponins called avenacosides and lipids in the form of phytosterols are all active within this plant, as well as vitamins E, B complex and minerals such as silica, iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium (Shipard, 2003).
Mechanisms of Action:
The water soluble polysaccharides, called mucilages in the plant are a type of carbohydrate, generating the demulcent action of A. sativa (Romm et al., 2010). The nutritive constituents, minerals, proteins and phytosterols are responsible for the nervine trophorestoritive properties. The myelin sheath of the nerves is composed of lipids and the emulsifier lecithin, and so the phytosterol lipids in the plant assist with rebuilding the nerves. Further adding to the strengthening of this system are the B-vitamins present. Due to the steroidal saponin being similar in structure to androgens, it is postulated that the steroidal saponins (avenacosides) raise testosterone levels – however androgen hormones are incredibly complex and it is unlikely that they will be able to be mimicked to give this physiological response (Materia Medica Monthly Issue #13-Milky Oats Seed Milky Oats (Avena sativa), 2017).
The herb is used for its nervine relaxant and trophorestoritive effects, and its nutritive demulcent, and libido enhancing properties (Flynn, 1996). As a nervine relaxant and trophorestorative, the milky oats are more concentrated in the compunds responsible for this mechanism of action, however the oatstraw (stem and aerial parts) can also be effective. The milky oat tops rebuild the nervous system through their ability to regenerate the mylien sheath of the nerve fibres (Berger, 1998).
The nutritive properties also assist in nerve function, while also contributing to the general nourishment of the body in many ways. The nutrients and minerals assist the skeletal system, the muscles and tissues of the body and the digestive organs. The seed contains the highest composition of vitamins and minerals, however the stem is very high in silica, enhancing the structural tissues of the body such as hair, skin, nails and connective tissues. Although the seed is used for its nutrient density, the whole plant is considered one of the more mineral rich herbal medicines (Chatuevedi, Yadav, & Shukla, 2011).
Renowned for its ability to sooth and heal irritated skin, this herbs mucilage constitutes its emollient effect on the skin. The same constituent is also responsible for the soothing effect on mucous membrane, making it an applicable remedy for internal use as a demulcent (Barnes, 2003).
Taste & Energetics
The taste of oats is indicative of the presence of polysaccharides, as it is one of the sweeter of the herbal remedies. It can taste a little bland, however this may be due to our societies high sugar diets, where the subtle tastes in oats and oatstraw may be masked (Ganora, 2009). The sweet taste shows its ability to moisten tissues, which is why it is an excellent remedy for dryness within the system. The taste also signals its nutritive qualities, as many grains are high in carbohydrates but also minerals, nourishing, strengthening and restoring weakened tissue and malnourished cells (Hoffmann, 1990).
The energetics of the plant are interesting, as it can be relatively neutral in nature. The neutrality of the herb suggests it can be utilized for a variety of constitutions, repairing the body with its nutritive effects and thus assisting many types of organisms to achieve balance within the system (Materia Medica Monthly Issue #13-Milky Oats Seed Milky Oats (Avena sativa), 2017). However the moistening effects are very prominent and often it is also seen as a slightly cooling remedy, although it is not a concern that this medicine will stabilize persons with cooler constitutions (Materia Medica Monthly Issue #13-Milky Oats Seed Milky Oats (Avena sativa), 2017). The moistening effect is primarily pertinent in its affinities for the nervous and digestive systems, which shows it is more of a locally rather than systemically moistening remedy (Wood, 2008). A. sativa is once again neutral in its tonal aspects, while it has a relaxant action upon the nervous system, calming and easing nervous tissue, its nutritive features offer a strengthening medicine to the structural tissues of the body (Materia Medica Monthly Issue #13-Milky Oats Seed Milky Oats (Avena sativa), 2017).
Uses (Traditional, Modern, Scientific Research)
Traditionally, this herb has been prescribed for nervous tension and exhaustion, particularly as a result of typhoid and other fevers, heart muscle atrophy, insomnia as a result of nervous exhaustion, depression, menopausal symptoms, debility and conditions of the elderly (Harris, 2003, p. 350). Other traditional uses for this plant include relief and prevention of chorea, epilepsy, uterine and ovarian conditions, nervous headache, amenorrhea and sysmenorrhea, weak circulation, impotency and rheymatism of the heart (Ellingwood, 1909, p. 41).
Modern uses of the plant still have many similarities with the traditional and even folklore use of the herb, however the scientific research tends to focus on its use as a medicine for overcoming addition, mainly in support of recovery from morphine and nicotine addiction (Harris, 2003, p. 350).
A. sativa is used as a preventative of atherosclerosis, with the chaff promoting a healthy blood lipid profile (Harris, 2003, p. 350).
Although not as heavily researched, it is a well known remedy amongst herbalists for issues of the digestive tract, soothing the stomach and bowels with the mucilaginous compounds, making it an excellent treatment for Irritable Bowel Conditions, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and constipation (Abrahamsson & Simre, 2004). It is important to state here that the oat grain is actually safe for people with gluten sensitivity and intolerances, if the oat has not been processed on machinery that has also handled wheat or other gluten containing grains. Some people however, display an sensitivity, allergic reaction or intolerance to avenin, a protein contained within the seed (Pubrick, 2016).
The modern use of Avena is mainly in its therapeutic effects on the nervous system. It is shown to assist recovery from nervous exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and anxious conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Al-snafi, 2015). The milky oat tops seem to create a soothing balm for nervous tension, creating a sense of core clarity and inner strength to those often afflicted by anxiety or worry (Berger, 1998). The beauty of this herb lies in its ability to foster a sense of slowness in an individual, acting as a long-term ally that will rebuild the system and provide a new sense of vitality if taken frequently.
The mineral-richness of the plant makes it specific for the treatment of osteoporosis, due to the high amounts of Calcium and Magnesium (Sarris & Wardle, 2010). This also lends itself to women transitioning into menopause and older life, assisting with the depression that can often accompany this journey, restoring vitality, increasing sexuality and libido, strengthening bones, lowering blood pressure and decreasing the severity of hot flushes (Berger, 1998)
It has also been stated that A. sativa is useful in strengthening the immune system, although there are limited texts to support this (Chatuevedi et al., 2011).
There are many traditional and modern texts that ascertain to oats use for the skin. Acting as an emollient, the herb can be soaked in water and used as either a formication or poultice, as a soak in the bath, in body scrubs or creams and lotions. The cooling and mucilaginous qualities provided by the polysaccharides lend themselves to soothing eczema, burns, psoriasis, acne and rashes (Berger, 1998).
Effects on Tissue States:
Specific for the Dry/Atrophy tissue state, due to the moistening and demulcent nature of the plant, and its tendency towards re-mineralising for weakness and loss of vitality. Dry/Atrophy is a state of weakness, nutrient deficiency, emaciation and lack of strength as well as dryness. It is best used when Dry/Atrophy is indicative within the nervous system (Wood, 2008).
Dose per day: Seeds: 3-6ml of 1:1 LE Green oats 3-6ml of 1:2 LE
Dose per week: Seeds: 20-40ml of 1:1 LE Green oats: 20-40ml of 1:2 LE
(Harris, 2003, p. 350)
Safety and Interactions Contraindications: None Known. Warnings and Precautions: None required. Interactions: None Known. Use in Pregnancy and Lactation: No adverse effects expected. Side Effects: None expected if taken within recommended dosage range.
(Harris, 2003, p. 350)
In-Text Citations and References
Abrahamsson, H., & Simre, M. (2004). patients with irritable bowel syndrome during mental stress, 1102–1108. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.2003.017962
Al-snafi, A. E. (2015). Pharmacology & Toxicology THERAPEUTIC PROPERTIES OF MEDICINAL PLANTS : A REVIEW, 5(3), 177–192.
Avena sativa L. | Oats | Plant Encyclopaedia | A.Vogel. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://www.avogel.ch/en/plant-encyclopaedia/avena_sativa.php
Avena sativa Oats, Common oat PFAF Plant Database. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Avena+sativa
Barnes, J. (2003). Quality, efficacy and safety of complementary medicines: Fashions, facts and the future. Part II: Efficacy and safety. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 55(4), 331–340. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2125.2003.01811.x
Berger, J. (1998). Herbal Rituals. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Chatuevedi, N., Yadav, S., & Shukla, K. (2011). Diversified therapeutic potential of Avena sativa : An exhaustive review, 1(3), 103–114.
Ellingwood, F. (1909). Ellingwoods’ Therapeutist - A monthly journal of direct therapeutics, 3(3), 3. Retrieved from http://www.swsbm.com/Journals/Ellingwood3-3.pdf
Elpel, T. J. (2000). Botany in a Day. hops Press.
Flynn, J. (1996). The herbal management of stress. Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism, 8(1), 15–18.
Ganora, L. (2009). Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry.
Geisler, E. (2011). Seeds of Knowledge. Knowledge and Knowledge Systems, (March 2012). https://doi.org/10.4018/9781599049182.ch003
Harris, B. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs. herbal formulas for the individual patient. International Journal of Aromatherapy. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0962-4562(03)00118-8
Hoffmann, D. (1990). Holistic Herbal. In Holistic Herbal-A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies.
Materia Medica Monthly Issue #13-Milky Oats Seed Milky Oats (Avena sativa). (2017).
Mollison, B. (1988). Permaculture: a designer’s manual. TAGARI.
Oats, M., Milky, I., & Seed, O. (2017). Volume # 13 :
Oatstraw – Mountain Rose Herbs. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/oatstraw/profile
Pubrick, M. & L. (2016). Grown and Gathered. Pan Macmillan Australia.
Romm, A., Ganora, L., Hoffmann, D., Yarnell, E., Abascal, K., & Coven, M. (2010). Fundamental Principles of Herbal Medicine. In Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-443-07277-2.00003-9
Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2010). Clinical Naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Elsevier Health Sciences.
Shipard, I. (2003). How can I use herbs in my daily life?
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal. A Complete guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004