Monday, December 8, 2014

Feeling Your Oats: A Guide to the Medicinal Uses of Avena sativa

We all know of oats as a tasty food, but did you know that the Oats plant (Avena sativa) is also a medicine? Herbalists often call it by different names--Milky Oats, Oat Seed, Oatstraw, or Avena--but in fact, it’s the same plant that graces your breakfast table as a bowl of oatmeal. Here, we’re going to focus on getting to know our friend Avena as a medicinal plant that treats nervous exhaustion and depression, enhances the libido, nourishes the body, and much more. Get ready to feel your Oats!

A Restorative Tonic

Avena is often used as a restorative tonic for anyone who feels chronically tired, stressed, depressed, frazzled, overworked, or exhausted. It nourishes and soothes the nervous system, helping to overcome anxiety, grief, and nervous breakdown. In Ayurveda, Oatstraw is known as one of the Rasayana herbs, which “rebuild the body-mind, prevent decay, and post-pone aging,” according to Vasant Lad and David Frawley in their book The Yoga of Herbs. 

By keeping blood fat levels down, Avena also supports heart health. As a nutritive herb, Oats and Oatstraw are high in phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, and manganese. Avena also contains abundant B vitamins, which the body rapidly loses during times of stress--another reason why this plant makes such a nice nerve tonic.  Plus, Oats contain the mineral silica, which supports the growth of healthy skin, hair, and nails. 

Unlike many herbal medicines, Avena is gentle enough to use every day to restore and revitalize the system. Susun Weed recommends eating Oats and/or taking Oatstraw consistently to improve coordination, bone density, attention span, balance, and memory--qualities that aging folks try hard to hold onto.

An Herb for Recovery

Avena’s nourishing qualities, along with its calming and uplifting effects, make it a nice remedy for people recovering from anorexia. It's also useful for recovering alcoholics and those withdrawing from tobacco, caffeine, or other drugs, as it can ease delirium tremens and irritability. In fact, this plant is good for anyone recovering from illness, as well as the elderly and convalescent. 

It's good to remember that Oats can help us recover from emotional distress as well, be it the loss of a loved one or even the so-called "positive stress" of a job interview or first date. Personally, I find that oatmeal is edible even at times when I don't feel much like eating. So, if your stomach is tied in knots (see also: Mint Magic), your hands are shaking, or if you find yourself in the proverbial Pit of Despair, fix yourself a bowl of oatmeal. Seriously.

Skin Care

By Bibikoff via Wikimedia Commons
Our discussion of Avena’s healing properties wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its benefits for the skin. Many lotions and body care products contain Oats in some form, and this is for good reason. This plant is excellent for treating all kinds of skin inflammation and dermatitis, including chicken pox, eczema, psoriasis, frostbite, chilblains, and rashes. Its cooling effects soothe the skin and also relieve itching and flaking.

Sense & Sensitivity

Stallion Munches on Oats
By Bonnie Gruenberg via Wikimedia Commons
With all of these qualities suggesting nourishment and ease, it may surprise you a bit to learn that Avena enhances the libido. Indeed, there is good cause for the phrase “sowing your wild oats,” as this plant functions as a gentle aphrodisiac. This is especially true in cases where someone works hard during the day and, come evening time, feels too exhausted to even think about sex. By restoring the entire system to a relaxed and sturdy state, Avena also restores the sex drive. Plus, Susun Weed explains that Avena enhances “sensitivity to pleasant stimuli,” making it an important sexual tonic, especially for women who have difficulty feeling pleasure. 

Speaking of sensitivity, it’s important to note that Avena heightens all of our senses, not just the physical ones. We mentioned that Oats are high in silica, which is needed by the brain and body for many functions, including intuition and connection to our Higher Self. The silica content, along with Avena’s rejuvenative effect on the nerves, makes it a great plant to use when undergoing any kind of spiritual work. A strong and vibrant nervous system is the backbone of psychic abilities, so it’s a good idea to keep your nerves nourished with Avena. Oatstraw supports meditation and creative dreaming as well as shamanic work of all kinds. Whatever spiritual adventures you find yourself on, Avena will help you stay grounded and clear-headed throughout the process. 

By Sigurdas via Wikimedia Commons

So you see--whether you are an impassioned maiden, a busy mother, or a cosmic crone; whether you are a strapping stallion or a worldly wizard; or even if you're just hungry--Avena is a great plant ally for anyone to befriend.

How to Use Avena


Now that we know why to use our lovely friend Avena, let’s look at how you can start using this amazing plant:

-It’s worth mentioning that eating oatmeal is a great way to “let food be thy medicine,” as Hippocrates would say. This is an easy and tasty way to enjoy the benefits of Avena.

-Milky Oats or Oat Seed extract is produced by harvesting the unripe seeds before they are mature enough to become grain. When squeezed, they exude a sweet, milky substance that makes a wonderful tincture. This makes getting in your Oats a bit more convenient when you’re in a hurry or on the road.

-Oatstraw is the green, grass-like portion of the Oats plant, which makes a mild tea that is quite palatable as well as nourishing.

-Oatstraw is also famous for its use in the bath, especially when treating skin conditions. Just steep a pot of tea, strain the liquid into a hot bath, and enjoy. Or, you can put some regular rolled Oats into a cotton, drawstring bag and keep it in the tub with you. (See also: Bath Tea.) Once wet, the bag will exude a gel-like substance that softens the skin. You can even use it to shave your legs! 

-If you’re a gardener, you can easily grow your own Oats. It works well as a tall ground cover and is harvested during the summer for extracting at the “milky” stage. Then you can cut and dry the remaining grass—Oatstraw—for tea. (Tip for home herbalists: Along with the usual blend of alcohol and water, add about 10% apple cider vinegar to your tincture in order to extract more of the valuable minerals this plant has to offer.)