Avena sativa

Family: Poaceae
Genus: Avena
Species: Sativa

Synonyms and Common names:  Groats, oatmeal, common oat.

Description and Habitat:   This is an annual cereal grass with a fibrous root producing a smooth, hollow, jointed stem, growing up to 120cm tall, with more or less rough pale green, narrow flat leaves. The flowers are arranged in a loose terminal panicle from 15-30cm long consisting of two-flowered spikelets up to 2.5cm long. The hairy, grooved grain is narrow with almost parallel sides. Avena has a wide distribution as a cereal crop.

Parts used:  Seeds and whole plant.

Harvesting:  The fruit and straw are gathered at harvest time in August about 4 weeks after the rye harvest. The stalks are cut and bound together. Leave them upright to dry and then thresh out the fruit or seed. The straw is just the crushed dry stalks.

Constituents: Saponins (including avenacosides A and B), alkaloids (including indole alkaloid, gramine, trigonelline, avenine), sterol (avenasterol), flavonoids, silica (particularly in the straw), starch (50% in the seeds), protein (including gluten), minerals (calcium, iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, zinc), vitamins B1, B2, D and E, carotene, fat, fixed oil.

Actions: Antidepressive, thymoleptic, cardiac tonic, nervous system restorative, nutritive, demulcent, vulnerary.

Indications: Depression, melancholia, menopausal neurasthenia, general debility.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology:  Avena is a nourishing herb applicable to any state of debility and exhaustion and during convalescence. It is particularly suited as a long-term treatment in nervous debility, making gradual but sustained progress in fighting off shingles and other forms of herpes, neuralgia, neuritis and even chronic depression.

It is also of benefit as part of a regime for people attempting to withdraw from an addiction to alcohol, smoking, tranquillizers or other drugs. The mild sedative and hypnotic properties are due to the indole alkaloid gramine. The alkaloid avenine stimulates the central nervous system and is the component which causes horses fed on large quantities of oats to become highly excitable.

Oat bran and, to a lesser extent, oatmeal, are rich sources of inositol, important for the proper metabolism of fats and for reducing blood cholesterol levels, while the silica content has local healing effects which can help skin problems when applied locally. It may be applied as a poultice for wounds, burns and neuralgia. Oat straw can be used for thyroid and oestrogen deficiency, for degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, and for colds, especially if recurrent or persistent. Regular use of oats as food will help to correct constipation.

Contraindications:  Large quantities may cause headaches at the back of the head. Gluten may be a problem in sensitive individuals (e.g those with coeliac disease and multiple sclerosis); allow the decoction or tincture to settle then decant the clear liquid only for use. Ensure that there has been no contamination by agrochemicals.

Preparation and Dosage:  Porridge makes a good start to the day either with milk and honey or the traditional Scottish salt and water.

Oat Tonic: This is a calming, nourishing, strengthening restorative ideal for sickly children, the elderly or convalescents. It restores digestive balance after taking antibiotics, undergoing surgery or suffering from gastritis or any poisoning.

350ml boiled water
75g rolled oats
½ teaspoon ground ginger or allspice
Juice of ½ lemon
5ml honey
Pour water over oats and spice and leave to stand for 30 mins. In the morning strain through a cloth and wring out the juice. Add the lemon and honey to the juice and mix well and bottle. This tonic will keep in the fridge for several days. Take 1 teaspoon 2 – 3 times a day until finished.

Additional Comments & Folklore:  Oats are easily digested and are restorative after illness, combating general debility. They contain silica, which aids healing and minerals including potassium and magnesium. It has been shown that eating oats lowers blood cholesterol levels and thus helps to protect against heart attacks. Oat bran is softer than wheat bran and more easily tolerated by people with constipation or irritable bowels.

Oats make an excellent skin cleanser with a balanced pH for sensitive skins or when skin conditions like eczema make it impossible to use manufactured creams and soaps.

Oats have been eaten since prehistoric times. Dr Bach recommended his Wild Oats flower remedy for times of uncertainty and dissatisfaction. Skin preparations containing oat extracts are used in orthodox medicine for eczema and dry skin.