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Medicinal Properties of the Oat Plant

Add this ancient grain to your home garden and apothecary for an easy-to-grow, versatile medicine right at your fingertips.

| January/February 2019

  • Oats can transform into several different medicines, all of which provide a foundation for health and well-being.
    Photo by Getty Images/Foxys_forest_manufacture
  • Oats grow best in well-drained soil and full sun. Plant them in a spot where other crops won’t out-compete them for space.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Virynja
  • Harvest milky oat seed when the plants are bright green and the tops release a milky latex if squeezed.
    Photo by Maria Noël Groves
  • Oat grain has a long history of medicinal use. It can be applied topically to sooth irritated skin, or ingested for it’s nutritional properties.
    Photo by Getty Images/egal
  • Fresh milky oat seed soothes, calms, and rebuilds the nervous system. Try blending them with high-proof alcohol to make a tincture.
    Photo by Maria Noël Groves

Oats provide more than tasty cookies and a warm, nourishing breakfast. Cultivated in temperate climates across the world as food and medicine since ancient times, this multifaceted grain can transform into several different medicines, all of which provide a foundation for health and well-being.

The oat plant can be divided into three categories based on plant part and medicinal use: milky oat seed for nervous system restoration; oat straw and dry oat tops, which are rich in minerals; and oat grain (oatmeal) with its soothing, nutritious properties. Both the cultivated (Avena sativa) and wild (A. fatua) species can be used interchangeably, but the cultivated species is more commonly available, oddly, even when labeled “wild oats.” 

Milky Oat Seed

Fresh milky oat seed soothes, calms, and rebuilds the nervous system. To harvest milky oat tops, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the maturing seed heads — as a nerve tonic, they’re viable for only a short window. Here in New Hampshire, oats that I plant in late May are usually ready the last week of July, but this varies by location and season, so watch your plants closely. You’ll know they’re ready when the plants are vibrant green and the tops release a milky latex when squeezed. Squeeze a few plants throughout your stand to make sure the whole stand is ready for harvest. Remove the tops by running your hand up the stem, which will make the seeds pop off.

Process milky oat seeds fresh; once dried, their medicinal properties more closely resemble oat straw. I whir the seeds in a blender with high-proof alcohol to make a tincture (see “Calming Tincture Blend” on Page 17 for further instructions on homemade tinctures), but apple cider vinegar or water (to freeze) can also be used. When you strain the tincture out a month or so later, include the white particles that settle to the bottom — that’s the good stuff. Shake well before taking. Milky oat glycerite also soothes the nervous system, but it’s challenging to make at home without spoiling due to its high moisture content.

 Milky oat is beloved by herbalists as a supreme nervine trophorestorative, a tonic that modulates the nervous system to restore vitality. It’s specifically indicated for nervous exhaustion and fatigue. In the 1900s, Eclectic doctor Finley Ellingwood recommended it for “overworked conditions of brain workers — ministers, physicians or lawyers — in the general prostration from great anxiety and worry.” Some refer to this as “adrenal fatigue” or “adrenal burnout.” Consider milky oat for stress, anxiety, fatigue, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, sexual lackluster, grief, trauma, and any other time the nervous and adrenal systems need to be calmed, nourished, rebuilt, and deeply but gently energized.

Milky oat tincture should be taken in relatively large, frequent doses: 1 to 5 milliliters (1⁄5 to 1 teaspoon) 2 to 5 times daily. It may take several weeks or even a month to fully kick in, but it does its job exceedingly well. Consider blending it with faster-acting herbs for harmonious, immediate results, such as skullcap, lemon balm, motherwort, ashwagandha, or holy basil. In formulas, milky oat makes a wonderful supportive herb for energy, focus, mood, and calm.

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