Avena sativa L.
Plant Family: Poaceae
A. sativa, or the common oat, is a popular cereal grain that has been eaten for at least 3,000 years. Although this is one of the main uses for this plant, various parts of the plant, such as the young seed and the oatstraw, are nutritive and have nervine qualities, and are thus a favorite amongst herbalists for supporting the nervous system. This plant is highly valued for its ability to restore balance and a sense of calm in weak and stressed out individuals.
A. sativa is a grass with erect stems and long blade-like leaves. Its flowers consist of inconspicuous spikelets, each floret containing 3 stamens, and a feathery stigma. This floret matures into the oat that is edible, and at the immature stage, exudes a white milky substance (referred to as 'milky oats') and harvested for its medicinal value. The whole plant is referred to as 'oatstraw.' 2,3 Oat descended from A. sterilis as a cross between wheat and barley, and spread as a weed from the Fertile Crescent to Europe.2 Believed to be domesticated around 3,000 years ago around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it eventually spread to the wet and cooler climates in Europe and became a popular cereal grain, claiming its place as a major food staple in the Poaceae family alongside wheat, barley, and rice.1,2 There are several species that are thought to have similar medicinal qualities, particularly A. fatua and A. barbata3
Cultivation And Harvesting
Oats have been cultivated since ancient Roman times as feed for horses. The British emigrants introduced oats to North America in the 17th century and they have been cultivated here ever since.2 Today, most cultivated oats are primarily bailed and sold as feed4, however much is grown for food as well and will continue to be cultivated in larger and larger quantities as its health benefits become more widely known. The biggest oat-producing countries are Russia, Canada, United States,2,4 Australia, around the Baltic Sea, Sweden, Finland, Poland, and Germany.4 The best time to harvest the seed is when it is immature, or in its milky phase, and then to tincture it the same day.3 The oatstraw is best harvested when the seed is mature5, it should then be dried but still retain green in the stems.6
History And Folklore
The popular oat has been a healthy addition to the diet of many Europeans for generations. Scotland is thought to be where the trend of eating oat porridge for breakfast began.7 There are many nutritional and health benefits found in the oat grain itself and it is often attributed to having the same soothing and nourishing effects as the oastraw tea and the milky oats tincture, all of which are helpful for weakness, debility, and convalescence. Green oat herb or oatstraw preparations have been used traditionally in Europe since the Middle Ages to boost mental health and as a restorative to the nervous system.8 Hildegard of Bingen, a nun and herbalist born in 1098 C.E. in present-day Germany, considered oats to be one of a few of her favorite 'happiness' herbs alongside fennel, summer savory, licorice, and hyssop.9
Oat tea has been used traditionally as a sedative and found especially useful in cases of insomnia and nervous disorders.
Oatstraw is a highly beneficial nervine, nutritive, and sedative. It is prized amongst herbalists for its gentle and supportive nature. The milky oats are generally believed to work quicker in an acute situation whereas the oatstraw supports the nervous system over time.3.10 Hence the tea of the oastraw is a better building tonic than the tincture.10 Either of these preparations are good for the type of person that has, according to the herbalist and teacher 7Song, " pushed and pushed and now feels tired, out-of-sorts, or just plain disconnected much of the time no matter how much they rest or sleep." 3 The milky oats have been used in withdrawal from nicotine (and a variety of other substances) as they seem to have a more psychoactive effect which enhances mood.10,11 Oatstraw is highly nutritive, containing minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamins, and a variety of other constituents which deeply nourish the entire body and are especially soothing to the nervous system. This gentle restorative herb is for those that are cold, depleted, tired, and have "frayed nerves"3,10,12 or for the type of person who drinks too much coffee and is chronically burnt out. 13 It is also helpful for soothing and nourishing inflammatory skin conditions, building up strength in degenerative wasting conditions, and for enhancing the mood.5,14 Oat grain is a vulnerary (promotes wound healing)12,13 and thus very popular in commercial cosmetic preparations such as exfoliating body washes or soothing bath gels.13,14 According to naturopath John Lust (the nephew of naturopathic pioneer Benedict Lust), various types of baths of the oatstraw herb could be used to address specific ailments. For example, fully submerging the whole body in a tub infused with oatstaw assuages liver and kidney problems and occasional joint pain, whereas a sitz bath can alleviate urinary and digestive concerns. Additionally, he suggests a foot bath in oatstraw for tired feet. He mentions its use in supporting the female reproductive system and suggests its use as a uterine tonic as well.15 Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar highly recommends oatstraw in pregnancy, especially when the woman experiences nervous exhaustion. Further, a tea of oastraw is also helpful in easing menopausal symptoms.14
nervine, stimulant, antispasmodic15,17 vulnerary nutritive12,13 tonic, sedative
Uses And Preparations
young milky oats as a fresh tincture
dried oatstraw as a tea or bath
oat grain as a food or external body wash or bath
Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed on July 4, 2014.
- Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Accessed at http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/avena-sativa-oat on July 2, 2014.
- Northeast School of Botanical Medicine Materia Medica blog. Accessed at http://7song.com/blog/2012/02/avena-a-monograph-on-oats-as-medicine/ on July 2, 2014.
- Home-Grown Cereals Authority. World and EU oats update – Monday, February 4, 2002. Available at:http://www.openi.co.uk/h020204.htm. Accessed July 1, 2014.
- Mills S. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1985.
- Moore, M. (1995). Herbal Materia Medica. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Bisbee, AZ.
- American Botanical Council Healthy Ingredient database. Accessed on July 1, 2014.
- Moccetti, T., Wullschleger, C., Schmidt, A., Aydogan, C., & Kreuter, M. H. (2006). Bioactivity-based development of a wild green oat (Avena sativa L.) extract in support of mental health disorders. Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie,27(S 1), P24.
- Campbell-Atkinson F. Hildegard of Bingen - Her Historical Impact. Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179 "The sybil of the Rhine" European J of Herbal Med. 2004;6(3):28-38.Date: HerbClip Review Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. June 15, 2005. HC# 020551-282.
- Becker M. Materia Medica Intensive Seminar. Boulder, CO: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, Inc; 2005.
- Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. Santa Fe. New Mexico: Red Crane Books; 1993.
- Hoffmann, D. (1998). The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
- Green, J. (2011). The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual. Random House LLC.
- Bremness L. Herbs: The Visual Guide to More than 700 Herb Species From Around the World. New York; DK Publishing; 1994.
- Lust, J. (2014). The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published. Courier Dover Publications.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover Books; 1971. Accessed at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/o/oats–03.html on June 19, 2014.
- Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on June 19, 2014
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, eds. Klein S, Rister RS, trans. The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.
- Berry, N. M., Robinson, M. J., Bryan, J., Buckley, J. D., Murphy, K. J., & Howe, P. R. (2011). Acute Effects of an Avena sativa Herb Extract on Responses to the Stroop Color–Word Test. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(7), 635-637.
- Dimpfel, W., Storni, C., & Verbruggen, M. (2011). Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(5), 427-434.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.