I was 22 years old and working in a health food store when I met a frazzled customer asking for help for her hot flashes and insomnia.
Her eyes were anxious, her voice raspy, and the feeling was desperate.
Out tumbled the story of her heart-wrenching divorce that coincided with her mother's too-soon passing.
My heart ached for her, the distress and prolonged grief were palpable. It had been a rough two years of losing two of the people she loved most.
I observed pale, dry skin, a wiry frame, and a sense that this person hadn't had proper nourishment in a very long time.
She could barely bring herself to eat anything as her bowels spasmed, but it was the hot flashes and anxiety that troubled her the most preventing any decent sleep and left her feeling "crazy".
I was only a few years out of herbal school, and in the middle of my homeopathic training. My confidence was still growing as a practitioner.
As a listened to her story, I was overwhelmed with a desire to help this woman. I wanted to do what I could to help ease her suffering. I could come up with a list of herbs, vitamins, and supplements that seemed applicable to help her but the urgency left me unable to wrap my head around all the possibilities and arrive at a clear protocol.
So to buy me time to craft a protocol and to give her something right now, I gave her Oatstraw.
I knew thick infusions of Oat (Avena sativa) would help her. The shop I was working at only had oatstraw instead of milky oats tincture, which would have been my preference.
But I knew the plant, in whatever form we had access to would help.
To work more deeply, I had imagined she might need complex formulas that would require study, so I gave her a big bag of dried oatstraw and some nettle, and suggested she drink 1 litre a day of infusion and then we could speak in a week, at which time I'd have some ideas for more constitutional formulas.
She looked quizzical as I handed her a giant bag of straw, explaining it was the same plant as oatmeal, "but trust me, it has medicinal benefits".
She was desperate, and grateful, albeit skeptical as she purchased the bag and left the store.
A week had passed, and she didn't return as I had hoped so I could give her a hormonal-adaptogenic formula.
I was crushed and thought I failed her.
Instead, she appeared two weeks later.
I observed her skin no longer looked pale, she had colour, and looked hydrated. There was a sparkle in her eye, and a grace with which she moved, instead of the anxious twitch from a few weeks past.
"Thank you so much!" she gushed. I cannot believe it, but the oatstraw has been a life-saver.
She described how it helped sleep and cool the hot flashes, and those two together made everything else better. "I feel grounded, my inner reserves have come back, and even a reasonable appetite has returned."
The results were profound for her, especially considering she had felt terrible for two years and no one seemed to be able to help her.
A sweet full circle; 12 years later she sought me out to become a student in my Alchemy of Herbal Medicine apprenticeship thanks to this first impressive experience with herbs.
Botanical Name: Avena sativa
Botanical Family: Poaceae
Parts Used: Milky oat top, straw, mature ripened seed
Avena is one of the best remedies for “feeding” the nervous system. It is indicated for nervous exhaustion especially where there is anxiety and depression. Most herbalists agree that this is the best all-purpose restorative herb in the Western materia medica. It is not profoundly sedative, but more relaxing and restorative; it promotes good sleep and a generalized well-being. In cases of convalescence from severe diseases Avena can be used to strengthen resistance to protect from further illness and increase vitality.
This is the herb to think of for utter and complete exhaustion. For someone who's been pushed to the edge, the demands on their nervous system and endocrine system has been beyond their capacity. For breakdown.
Taken over time the Milky Oats can help repair damaged nerves, and act as a tropho-restorative to the nervous system. This is a great herb for recovery from overwork and can guide the nervous system out of the ‘wired and tired’ pattern (tired yet wired is a symptom of nervous exhaustion).
This is the herb to think of for folks who use stimulants or their own natural adrenalin stores to push themselves through the day and have a hard time ‘turning off’.
Eating oats as a food is also good medicine for our nerves and very soothing and demulcent for our digestive tract; plus it’s incredibly high in minerals like calcium. Just be mindful that Oats contain a similar protein to gluten, so some individuals
may be sensitive. A strong decoction of Oats can be added to the bath for the treatment of neuralgia and skin rashes. Cooked or powdered oats can also be added to baths for soothing the most intense of skin irritations and itching.This herb is excellent for the treatment of hot flashes, especially accompanied with irritability and exhaustion. Historically, Avena has been used in the treatment of drug withdrawal and has been used to help wean patients off of opioids and nicotine. It is used in many cases of chronic inflammatory diseases.
Used topically, oatmeal is an excellent emollient and demulcent for inflamed, irritated and itchy skin. For this purpose, a clean sock or muslin bag can be filled with the crushed grain, and infused in water for 15 to 20 minutes. Then use the sock as a sponge to the affected area.
Magic & Ritual
Avena is used in rituals and ceremonies for fertility, health, joy, and longevity. It’s ruled by Venus and the Earth element. I also relate it to the Moon. I love to ritually take baths in oatmeal or some of the spent marc of milky oats to ‘feed’ the body with this Moony, Venusian energy of fertility. Consider this word and energetic of fertility meaning far more than childbearing. This herb is an important ally for people who are so burnt out and depleted they describe themselves as feeling “crispy”. I use it anywhere (magically and medicinally) for where people feel barrenness, scarcity, and starved on any level of their being. It’s a beautiful plant that teaches us about Plenty.
No side effects or drug interactions have been reported. Those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance may react. This is rare, but worth considering.
My preference is to make tincture from the fresh milky oat top (the first photo) at a 1:3 weight to volume. I use 75% alcohol.
If you are alcohol-free, use apple cider vinegar instead, or glycerin.
See this quick video tutorial:
If you don't have access to fresh plant material, you can order dried milky oat tops from any quality herb-seller that sells dried herb. While it's not as potent as fresh it will still be effective.
Prepare dried herb as a 1:5 with 40% alcohol tincture. Or, once again, use apple cider vinegar or glycerin if you are alcohol free.
Second to tincture, like I did for my client, you can drink strong infusions of dried milky oat tops or dried oatstraw.
Simply fill a canning jar 3/4 of the way with dried herb cover with boiled water, steep for a minimum of 1-hour, and enjoy.
It's a very easy plant to grow, even in in a pot on a balcony for city-dwellers.
Annual. Zones 2-11. Can be planted in the fall to overwinter in zones 8 or warmer.
Grass crop growing to 4ft tall and 8"-1ft wide.
Sun & Soil
Full sun, regular garden soil.
Milky Oats are an annual crop that can be planted in the fall or early spring for maturity in the summer or fall. They are direct seeded in place in the garden in rows. They are a wonderful green manure that can be planted, then before they mature chopped down and dug into the soil for a mineral-rich fertilizer.
Oats are easy to grow and need little to no care.
You do you have an Avena sativa story? I'd love to hear your experience in the comments below!