Avena Sativa: The Warm Weather Medicine of Milky Oats
We’ve slipped into one of the most delicious times of the year– that liminal, lofty space between spring and summer. The raucous rush of springtime ephemerals has died down, leaving a haphazard cascade of petals dissolving beneath the trees. And yet, the hot days of dry grasses and hibiscus have yet to arrive. Like the anticipation of a full moon, the coming of this new season has stirred something inside me that I can only recognize as a honeyed, exhilarating mixture of nostalgia and desire.
The plumping of the oats, sown in the earliest days of Spring, is yet another indicator that the heat of Summer is near. Milky Oats is one of the most sensuous, enthralling and enchanting herbs I have ever had the pleasure to grow. (Even its scientific name is utterly delicious: Avena sativa). Most people are familiar with oats as a cover crop or a cereal grain. Growing up I, quite frankly, thought oats were supremely boring! (Although, having been raised as a Quaker, I did feel a strange modicum of pride in our small, oat-bound, claim-to-fame. There was something about that simply dressed Quaker character and his good old-fashioned stoicism…) Turns out, oats are wild, exciting and truly incredible medicine.
Growing at breakneck pace, the green stalks of oats are unbelievably nutritious and mineral-rich. Infused in hot tea, oat straw is considered a tonic nutritive, feeding our body and nourishing a calm state of mind. It is an excellent source of calcium and magnesium and can help ease the stress of rough transitions and dark moods. If you grow oats as a cover crop, you can snip the greens at anytime. Cut them into sections for easy drying and store as a delicious tea beverage throughout the year.
Let your oats keep growing, and their magic will continue to unfurl in the tiny, delicate wands of their seed heads. Soft, prancing, seriously delightful, the semi-mature oat seeds should be harvested for medicine at a very specific time. It requires finesse, and maybe a whispered hint from a fairy or two, to get it just right. You must develop a relationship with your oats, squeezing them gently every day until you see that telltale drop of “milk” appear at their tip. This milk is a naturally occurring latex, and signals us herb-worshipers that the time is ripe to gather this medicine.
Blended with alcohol to make a tincture (using a ratio of one part herb to two parts alcohol), Milky Oats forms a vibrant, verdant green slurry of medicine. After it sits for at least 6 weeks, you can strain your alcohol off and enjoy the many blessings of Milky Oats. Note on Gluten: As someone with an extreme gluten-sensitivity, I have never had a reaction to any reliably grown oat medicine. Grown commercially, many oats are processed with wheat, rendering them unsafe for anyone with celiac or gluten sensitivities. I do not generally buy oat straw from the store. However, oats that I know have been grown and processed separately from wheat have always treated me kindly and should, technically, be completely gluten-free.
Milky Oats is known as a nervine and a trophorestorative for the nervous and endocrine systems (meaning that oats are a deeply nutritive restorative for these systems. I’ve heard people describe Milky Oats as “nerve food”). Milky Oats can work wonders for those who feel burnt out, exhausted, fried, tightly wound or scattered due to overwork and stress. They’ve been known to cool and relieve states of high anxiety and anger, irritability and addiction, grief, and panic disorders. Often indicated for those who are experiencing a loss of libido, Milky Oats can help plump up your general juiciness and replenish deep reserves of energy. A steadfast and calming companion to help ease the transitions during major life passages.
Personality wise, Milky Oats is akin to a sweet, round, sensuous water nymph…asking you to slow down, simply drink, and enjoy. Milky Oats is a tonic in the traditional sense, you will see the most profound shifts in physical and emotional states when taking Milky Oats over a longer period of time. I recommend 1-2 dropperfulls of tincture up to 3x day taken for at least three months for long-term benefits (although, as a supremely safe herb, you could increase that dosage to 3-5 dropperfulls as needed).
One of my favorite expressions is the old adage of “sowing ones wild oats.” When you seed oats you broadcast them, recklessly and with abandon, knowing that at least one of them will take and, frankly, not caring very much which one! Recently, a younger friend of mine broke up with her long-term high school sweetheart and has had a string of brief love affairs and amorous encounters. When asked about it, her mom simply shrugged and smiled, “she’s just sowing her wild oats.” Far from the negative stereotyping of wild foolishness or reckless naivety, sowing one’s oats can be incredibly empowering. It’s about striking out into the world, finding levity and the space to play, trying new things and seeding the light of your curiosity and creativity in all kinds of crevices. (In this way it reminds me of the stone known as Fools Gold, or Pyrite).
Wild Oat Flower essence, a form of energetic plant medicine made from a wild variety, embellishes this same narrative. This sweet essence is also called the Vocation essence, as it can help those who feel distracted or distanced from their life purpose, or squarely confused about the nature of their path, next step, or greater calling. Often indicated for those who feel consistently restless or dissatisfied with their life. Taken in drop dosages, Wild Oat flower essence can help you find and feel enlivened by the call of your individual destiny. Vivid and true, Oat essence shows you the uniqueness of your path and helps you to invoke and appreciate work as an expression of your true spirit and inner calling. A clearing of purpose and conviction, this essence is wonderful for those graduating from school, stagnating in a limiting or boring vocation, or perhaps even experiencing a mid-life crisis.
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Yesterday, I went out to the garden to harvest my last batch of oats. Soft and slender, I held each one like a small dancer. On my knees, I clipped them slowly. I was in no hurry. I let them fall into an old willow basket and felt the late afternoon sun warm like orange on my skin. The breeze moved across my arms gently, carrying the distant scents of fresh grass, wet earth, and faraway roses. Summer was coming, and she was speaking to me with each methodic clip and quiver. She was whispering something that felt like a daydream and sounded, in hollows and vowels, like destiny.