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A deeply nutritive and nourishing food and primary herbal medicine for the nervous system

Wild Oats

Avena sativa Poaceae

Oats refers to the species Avena sativa, which is cultivated oats. Avena fatua is the true Common Wild Oat species.

  • How does it feel?

    Oat straw, and Oat seeds are different plant parts, all with an abundance of medicinal and nutritional benefits and applications. 

    Oat Straw has a grassy, new mown hay aroma and taste, additionally it is sweet and earthy due to its richness in carbohydrates and minerals respectively.

    The milky oats are generally believed to work more quickly in an acute situation whereas the oat straw offers longer term regenerative support. An infusion of the oatstraw is a better building tonic than the tincture. 

    According to the herbalist and teacher 7Song, oatstraw is specific for people who feel they have been “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.” 

    Oatstraw is highly nutritive, containing numerous minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamins, along with a variety of other constituents which deeply nourish the entire body. This gentle restorative herb is for those that are cold, depleted, or tired.

  • What can I use it for?

    Oat straw much like oats are a primary nervous system trophorestorative and nervine. It is a nutritive restorative to the nervous system, whilst also being able to relax and calm frazzled nerves. They will essentially ‘feed’ the nerve cells, building up their strength and improving their resistance to stress.

    At the same time, they will act as an effective nervine, calming over-stimulated nerve cells, allowing time for them to recover from chronic long-term stimulation. Medicines of the oat also have an excellent nutritive profile, containing a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals.

    The oat seed produces a milky, mucilaginous substance that acts as an emollient for the skin. It is particularly effective for the treatment of hot, dry, irritated and inflamed skin conditions. This can be used as a bath infusion by adding a generous hand full of oats into a muslin cloth, tying together the oat bag and infusing straight into bath water. The milk of the oats can then be squeezed into the water or applied directly onto the skin. Oat infusions can also be added into medicinal skin preparations such as cream.

  • Into the heart of Wild Oats

    Oat is a highly esteemed herb, and is perhaps one of the best deeply nourishing restoratives of the nervous system. The various parts of the oat plant provide the raw materials that are specifically relevant to the structural and functional health of the nervous system. Particularly useful for deficiency conditions, they are a nourishing food during convalescence, and can be included in daily culinary rituals for those experiencing acute or chronic debility and exhaustion (2).

    It will promote a sense of harmony, growth and vitality within the body. Oats have an excellent nutritional profile and this, in combination with its trophorestorative effects, make this herb an excellent whole body tonic that will restore a depleted and exhausted body.  

    Its primary activity is concentrated within the nervous system, where it restores damaged and overwrought nerve cells. However, Oats will also regulate the endocrine system, helping to balance whole body metabolism and regulate hormone production within the pancreas, thyroid and gonads.

     

    Oat also soothes the external body as well as the internal. Its seeds are packed full of a sweet mucilage that soothes and calms hot, dry and irritated skin conditions by acting as an effective emollient.

  • Traditional uses

    Both oats and oat straw have a long history of medicinal use in Europe. In folk medicine, oats are used by herbalists to treat nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and “weakness of the nerves”. A tea made from oats was thought by herbalists to be useful in rheumatic conditions and to treat water retention. It is also traditionally used topically to sooth irritated skin, or as rolled oats, ingested for it’s nutritional properties.

    A tincture of the green tops of oats was also used to help with withdrawal from tobacco addiction. It also has many other traditional applications such as to treat conditions such as headaches, migraines, shingles and fatigue. Oats tincture and oatstraw tea have been applied for a variety of  degenerative wasting conditions such as multiple sclerosis and there is also a history of using Oats in epilepsy treatments.

    The King’s Dispensatory writes ‘Oats extracts rank among the most important restoratives for conditions depending upon nervous prostration, and for the nervous exhaustion consequent upon typhoid and other low fevers, and the accidental disorders arising from these complaints, as weak heart, insomnia, etc. In enfeebled states of the heart muscle it acts as a good tonic to improve the energy of the organ, and is recommended to prevent relapsing cardiac rheumatism. It has been much used as a remedy to assist the morphine-consumer to throw off the habit, and to sustain the nervous system while undergoing that ordeal’.

  • Traditional actions

    • Adaptogenic
    • Antioxidant
    • Demulcent
    • Galactagogue
    • Nervine
    • Relaxant
    • Trophorestorative
    • Vulnerary
  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: Oat (both oats and oat straw) is indicated in nervous exhaustion and weakness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, ME, cerebral deficiency such as memory and concentration loss and also in drug withdrawal. Oats are a nervous system trophorestorative, restoring, rejuvenating and strengthening nerve cells.

    The medicine of oats is indicated in all manner of neurasthenias’ – such as in shingles and other forms of herpes (both internally and topically). Also in the neuralgias, neuritis and chronic states of anxiety and depression (1).

    Oat seed is indicated for the excesses in addictions, both sexual excess and drug addictions. As a nervine herb, oats are supportive in recovery from addiction (4).

    Endocrine: Oat nourishes the endocrine glands, with a specific action upon the thyroid, pancreas and gonads promoting the release of oestrogen and thyroxine whilst also regulating pancreatic functioning including blood sugar balance. It is indicated in metabolic weakness, endocrine deficiencies (thyroid, pancreas, adrenal, gonad) and hormonal imbalances.

    Urinary, kidney and reproductive: Oats are indicated in both urinary and reproductive weaknesses, such as bladder weakness, impotence, loss of libido and premature ejaculation (4). Oats nourish the reproductive and urinary tract, strengthening and toning the organs.

    Skin: Oat is indicated in hot, dry, irritated and inflamed conditions of the skin such as eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis, where it can be applied externally as an emollient.

  • Research

    Nervous System

    Oat straw: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, counterbalanced cross-over study assessed the effects of single doses of the green-oat extract (GOE) across a broad range of cognitive domains in healthy adults aged 40-65 years who self-reported that they felt that their memory had declined with age. Participants repeated over 6 sessions, receiving a single dose of either placebo, 800, or 1600 mg green oat extract (oat straw) on each occasion. This was repeated twice for each participant. 

    The study results showed improved performance in delayed word recall task in terms of errors, thinking time and overall completion time. Working memory span was also increased, but only on the second occasion that this dose was taken. These results confirm the acute cognitive effects of  GOE, also suggesting that the optimal dose lies at or below 800 mg (3).

    In a journal review of 36 accessions of Avena sativa L. in various central nervous system (CNS) test systems a physiologically significant inhibitory effect on monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) and phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE 4), (two CNS enzymes closely connected to mental health and cognitive function) was seen. The findings provide some explanation by which oat straw may be effective for use in mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety (5). 

    Similar results were also reflected in a study carried out on elderly subjects using the Stroop Colour Word Test, a test used to measure attention and concentration and the ability to maintain task focus. Doses of Oat straw extract at 1600-mg dose or 2400-mg or a 0mg placebo were given, and the results demonstrated that Oat straw extract significantly improves attention and concentration and the ability to maintain task focus in older adults with differing levels of cognitive status (6).

    Metabolism

    Oat seeds: In a systematic review of research into Oats and compounds found in oats discusses mechanisms by which beta-glucans present in oats may contribute towards the well known uses of oats in supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. The review discusses the therapeutic potential of high fibre diets for reducing high blood pressure and refers to oats as an excellent dietary choice to support via its high fibre content as well as beta gluons effects on the cardiovascular system. Beta gluons have also been shown to reduce all these risk factors to benefit the treatment of diabetes and associated complications. In addition, β- glucan also promotes wound healing and alleviates ischemic heart injury (7).

    Oat seeds are well known as an important food type, both deeply nutritive and therapeutic due to their vast array of nutritional and medicinal constituents. A review of the multiple antioxidative and bioactive molecules in oats, the therapeutic potential of β-glucan and avenanthramides has been discussed. Both chemical groups have been found to improve the immune function, support detoxification, reduce blood cholesterol, and help with dietary weight loss by enhancing the lipid profile and breaking down fat in the body.

    β-glucan is described as an insulin secretion regulator, preventing diabetes. Progladins in oats also lower cholesterol levels, suppress the accumulation of triglycerides, reduce blood sugar levels, suppress inflammation, and improve skin health. Saponin-based avanacosidase and functional substances of flavone glycoside are also shown to improve the immune function, control inflammation, and prevent infiltration in the skin (9).

    Addiction

    Oat straw: In Ayurvedic medicine Oat straw is used as supportive treatment for various addictions, including opium addiction. A case report showed 6 out of 10 opium addicts gave up the drug after a treatment period of 27 to 45 days using a decoction of green oats. Oats have also even been used to treat withdrawal from tobacco. Likely this mechanism as a result of its restorative effect of Oat straw on the nervous system (7). Of course for serious addictions like this more holistic support is needed, but oat straw could provide supportive relief from the difficulties of quitting a habit. 

  • Did you know?

    Oats were one of the earliest cereals cultivated by man. Despite being native to Europe, oats were known in ancient China as long ago as 7,000 B.C. The ancient Greeks were the first people known to have made a recognisable porridge (cereal) from oats.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Oats and oat straw are safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • Interactions

    Seeds may decrease absorption of some drugs e.g. Lovastatin due to their mucilaginous quality.

  • Contraindications

    Oats are often produced in factories containing wheat products, therefore they may contain gluten and are therefore contraindicated for use by people with Celiac disease.

  • Preparation

    Oat straw: Green tops of the common oat plant are used dried in infusions; tinctures; capsules.

    Oats: Most commonly, oat seed/oats are consumed in the usual culinary way. For an effective application for medicinal purposes, oats must be consumed at around twice daily by a normal portion. They can also be prepared as a tincture.

  • Plant parts used

    Oat straw, oat meal and oat seeds are three different plant parts all with an abundance of medicinal and nutritional benefits and applications. For the purpose of this monograph we have focused on Oat Straw with some comment on medicinal specifics for oat meal and oat seed. 

    Typically oat straw is gathered and dried, either used as dried herb, decocted or tinctured at 1:5 in 25% alcohol.

    Oatmeal/ oat groats are prepared and consumed as a meal for example porridge.

  • Constituents

    Oats (oat seed):

    • B-Vitamins
    • Saponins (incl avenacosides A and B)
    • Alkaloads (inclindole alkaloaid; gramine; trigonelline and avenine)
    • Sterols (avenasterol)
    • Beta glucans
    • Flavonoids
    • Silica
    • Starch and protein (incl. gluten)
    • Minerals (esp calcium) (1)

    Oat straw:

    • Vitamins A, C, E, K, & B-complex
    • Minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, silica, and zinc
    • Proteins (prolamines-avenues)
    • C-glycosyl flavones
    • Avenacosides (spirostanol glycosides)
    • Fixed oil
      Starch (2)
  • Habitat

    Oats are native to Europe and Southwest Asia, occurring naturally in croplands and disturbed areas such as grain fields, oilseed crop fields, fallow fields, roadsides, pastures, waste places, and gardens.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status of Wild Oat (Avena fatua) is classed as ‘least concern’. The species Avena sativa is commonly cultivated.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name. A supplier should also be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    • Oats should be planted in an area that receives full sunlight in a dry soil with a pH of 6 to 7.5.
    • Sow the seeds of oats directly outdoors at a depth of 6mm at the beginning to middle of spring in the early spring, whereas perennial varieties can be planted either in the early spring or in autumn.
    • Depending on the variety oats, seedlings should be planted 25 to 30cm apart (small) or 45 to 60cm apart (larger varieties of oat). 
    • Keep the ground moist to allow the seeds to germinate. Continue to do so as the plants begin to grow. 
    • Mulch with fresh compost or manure to help the oats retain moisture, but it will be necessary to water them periodically whenever the soil begins to dry out.
    • If the area you live in gets plenty of rain you may not need to water your oats at all.
  • Recipe

    Stress and Burnout Tea Blend

    Blend equal parts of:

    Infuse 2 heaped teaspoons in a small/ medium size tea pot of boiling hot water for up to 15 minutes. Strain and drink twice daily to bring a sense of calm and balance to your day.

    All of the above listed herbs work to support the nervous system.

  • References

    1. Mills, S.Y. (1993). The essential book of herbal medicine. Editorial: Penguin.
    2. Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine. Hardback (1st Edition). Independently published.
    3. Kennedy, D.O., Jackson, P.A., Forster, J., Khan, J., Grothe, T., Perrinjaquet-Moccetti, T. and Haskell-Ramsay, C.F. (2015). Acute effects of a wild green-oat (Avena sativa) extract on cognitive function in middle-aged adults: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects trial. Nutritional Neuroscience, 20(2), pp.135–151. doi:10.1080/1028415x.2015.1101304.
    4. Wood, M. (2004). The practice of traditional western herbalism : basic doctrine, energetics, and classification. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, Cop.
    5. Bioactivity-based development of a wild green oat (Avena sativa L.) extract in support of mental health disorders. Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-2006-954926?device=desktop&innerWidth=412&offsetWidth=412. Published: November 23, 2006. Accessed September 26, 2022.
    6. Berry, N.M., Robinson, M.J., Bryan, J., Buckley, J.D., Murphy, K.J. and Howe, P.R.C. (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), pp.635–637. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0450.
    7. Mushtaq, A., Gul-Zaffar, Z., A.D. and Mehfuza, H. (2014). A review on Oat (Avena sativa L.) as a dual-purpose crop. Scientific Research and Essays, [online] 9(4), pp.52–59. doi:10.5897/sre2014.5820.
    8. Chen, J. and Raymond, K. (2008). Beta-glucans in the treatment of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risks. Vascular Health and Risk Management, [online] 4(6), pp.1265–1272. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2663451/.
    9. Kim, I.-S., Hwang, C.-W., Yang, W.-S. and Kim, C.-H. (2021). Multiple Antioxidative and Bioactive Molecules of Oats (Avena sativa L.) in Human Health. Antioxidants, [online] 10(9), p.1454. doi:10.3390/antiox10091454.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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