I hope this missive finds you in good health, high spirits, and happy circumstance! The new moon last night reminds us to reset our minds to the present, and recognize the power of a fresh start and new beginnings. This is a time of great creativity, energy and potential- harness that, and move into your week and this new lunar cycle refreshed and motivated to take on all that this upcoming period will ask of you! I’d love to hear in the comments below how you choose to honor this time of the new moon- whether it’s with a ritual, ceremony, journaling, or any other way to mark the passing of the old and the entrance of the new.
Today, our profiled herb is similar to celery in the sense that it is considered a part of most conventional diets, in its whole or processed form. We often overlook the marked medicinal value that it contains in favor of its nutritional aspects, inherently undervaluing its abilities to enrich our lives. The herb we will be looking at and learning about today is Oat!
The strength of oat’s medicinal value is felt most acutely on our bodies’ nervous systems. A natural antidepressant, oat is particularly effective when that depressed mood is related to anxiety or nervous exhaustion, and for women, this is an excellent herb to help guide you through menopause. Oats are also a great source for vitamins A, B and E, and absorb into the blood stream slowly, helping to gradually bring up blood sugar levels, and hold them there sustainably. If your parents ever told you when you were little to “eat something, you’ll feel better”, an oat-based snack would have definitely done the trick! So grab yourself a granola bar, and continue reading below to learn about how you can use oats not only in your meals, but as an herbal healer as well.
Oat’s Traditional Uses
Throughout history, oat has been an integral part of the meals and diets of commoner and royal alike, and has nourished both humans and animals. As far as herbal medicine goes, dried seeds and fresh oat plant has been used, as mentioned above, to improve nervous stamina and ease depressed mental states. Dried oak stalks, or straw, were often used to fill mattresses in order to prevent or mitigate the effects of rheumatism. The famed 17th century English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper claimed that “a poultice made of of meal of oats and some oil of bay helpeth the itch and leprosy”, a nod to the emollient and soothing nature of oat.
In terms of folklore surrounding this herb, out of the wheat, grain and oat fields of Germany we find the Feldgeister spirit of the Haferwolf, or the Oat Wolf. This plant spirit stalks the fields throughout the growing season, taking the form of a wheat-colored wolf, and can ensure a plentiful harvest when trapped by the planting of Arnica around the field. Oat is also an herb associated with the planet Jupiter, and the element of Earth. Certain pagan High Holidays involve oat in one way or another- during Imbolc, straw Brideo’gas dolls are made to celebrate the Maiden in her bridal form, and during Beltane in parts of Scotland in the 18th century, an oatmeal cake was sliced and marked with charcoal, then blindly drawn by one of the participants. Whoever drew the piece with the charcoal on it had to jump through the Beltane fire three times, or the other revelers would pretend to throw him in the flames, perhaps harkening back to the time of human sacrifice centuries before. The common folk sure knew how to celebrate, didn’t they?
The oat plant, or Avena sativa, is an annual grass that grows up to 3 feet tall, a single stalk with heads of grain housed in small, spike-like sheaths of leaves. Leaves that grow along the stem are blade-like and slender, and are often light green to tan in color, depending on the season. Originally native to Northern Europe, oat is now grown around the world in most temperate regions as a cereal crop. It is harvested in the late summer, and is commonly cut when the greenest of kernels is turning cream-colored. The most common method of hand-harvesting is called swathing, and involves cutting the stalk 10 cm above the ground and then laying the cut grass in the sun for several days to dry.
Oat is an aggressively-growing plant, and can often be found in fields and on trails throughout the United States. Wildcrafting is feasible, but you can also find organic oat seeds (grain) and straw at your local animal feed store for minimal cost.
Healing Attributes of Oat
The key actions of oat are, as mentioned previously, antidepressant, emollient, nutritive and tonic. It works on our nervous systems, increasing our stamina, mood and can help in relieving anxiety and exhaustion. The fresh plant is considered a tonic remedy has been found to reduce anxiety and aid in continuity of sleep for those whose anxious state as prevented ample rest previously. Oat has also been known to lessen the sharp effects of withdrawal, be it from drugs or alcohol, and could be a welcome addition to that difficult process.
The dried seeds and fresh plant are the variations of the oat that are used medicinally, but are to be taken differently. If you are planning on using the dried seeds, they are to be either eaten as food, or made into a tincture or decoction. For use of the fresh plant, oat is best taken in tincture or capsule form. Taken a look at the list below to see how to incorporate oat into your herbal medicine cabinet!
- Eczema or dry skin- two cups of dried seeds in a muslin bag, placed under hot running water in a bathtub. Soak in the decoction to relieve itching and flaking, and nourish your skin.
- Nervous exhaustion- tea, tincture or capsule of dried oat seeds (or tincture of fresh plant)
- High cholesterol- eating oat bran regularly (2-3x weekly) can lower cholesterol significantly
- General debility + nervous conditions- tincture of oat straw
- Overstressed nervous system- tincture or decoction of dried oat seed, taken internally.
No known cautions exist for the use of oat medicinally, and so the dosage is generally liberal, around 5-15 grams daily, and up to 100 grams a week. A herb commonly used alongside oat for increased effectiveness when treating depressed mood or nervous exhaustion is damania (Turnera diffusa), which is known for its ability to lift mood and enhance vitality. I will be profiling damania later this year, so keep an eye out for it!
Thank you once again for joining me in learning more about the nutritive, soothing oat! Let me know what you thought about this article, or any experience you might have with this herb, in the comments below. I hope this article was helpful to you, and you’ll consider adding oat in your home apothecary arsenal!
Wishes and willowbark,