Milky Oats


Botanical Name: Avena sativa, Poaceae

Common names: Avena, Oats, Milky Oats

Similar species: Avenafatua (Wild  Oats)

Plant description: Grieve mentions over 25 different species in the Avena genus, many of which may in fact be subspecies or even cultivated varietals. Some species are used interchangeably with A. sativa as a food grain and fodder. The division of the various species with the Avena genus has also been done on a genetic basis, with species such as A. strigosa and A. altlantica being identified as diploid, A. barbata and A. abyssinica as tetraploid, and A. sativa and A. fatua as hexaploid. A. sativa, which is officinale in pharmacy, is an annual, with a smooth stem , attaining a height of between one and one and a half meters, with rough, green, linear-lanceolate leaves. The flowers are arranged in a loose terminal panicle about 15-30cm long, consisting of two-flowered pendulous spikelets up to 2.5cm long. The seed first forms with a whitish milky mucilaginous fluid, that eventually gives way to a hard, grooved grain.

Habitat, ecology and distribution: A. sativa is cultivated. Wild species such as A. fatua are often found in grassy fields, among grains crops as a weedy grass, and in waste areas.

Part used: fresh milky seed, fresh crushed or steel cut oat groats, oatstraw

History: A. sativa is probably a natural mutation that was cultivated from the Wild Oat (Avena fatua), although little is known about this plant prior to our common era. Oats is native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, but is widely distributed throughout Europe, an event that was probably concurrent with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The oldest known oats grains are found in Egyptian archeological sites dating back to 2000 BCE, but are thought to have been representative of weeds. The oldest known historical find of cultivated oats were found in late Bronze-age caves in Switzerland. Oats were introduced into North America by European colonists in the early 1600’s, some of which, such as A. fatua, have since become naturalized (Gibson and Bensen 2002).

Constituents: Avena contains a number of potentially interesting constituents, many of which have not been investigated beyond their identification. Of note are the indole alkaloids gramine, trigonelline, and avenine, which are stated in some sources to exhibit an effect upon the central nervous system. Other constituents include the saponin glycosides avenacosides A and B, flavonoid glycosides (e.g. quercitin), and plant sterols. Oats and Oatstraw in particular are also noted for its mineral content, which includes significant amounts of silica, calcium, iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and chromium and zinc. Both the seed and the straw of course contain a significant amount of starch, as well as protein, fatty acids, and vitamins B1, B2, D and E (Duke 1992; Bergner 1997, 245).

Medical Research:
• Addiction and withdrawal: A study from the 1970’s investigated the effect of Avena on cigarette addiction. The administration of a tincture of Avena (plant part not specified) in rodents by gastric tube or intraperitoneal injection was found to antagonize the effect of morphine in two separate tests (hot-plate and tail flick). Researchers also compared animals made dependent on morphine with mice pretreated with repeated injections of morphine in addition to the herbal extract. Researchers noted that with the extract, test animals passed a smaller number of stools and tended to jump less after the administration of nalorphine, a powerful opioid antagonist. The herbal extract was also found to antagonize the effects of intravenous nicotine administration in urethane-anaesthetized rats (Connor et al. 1975). Weiss reports that a decoction of oats have been used in India as treatment for opium addiction, and that in a placebo-controlled clinical trial the fresh plant extract was shown to be highly effective in reducing cigarette addiction (1988, 288).
• Endocrine: Using an extract derived from the leaves, researchers attempted to determine the effect of Avena sativa upon LH-secretion in rats. The results indicated that the extract had an LH-releasing activity and that the site of action was upon the adenohypophysis in the rat brain (Fukushima et al 1976).

Toxicity: None.

Herbal action: nervine trophorestorative, sexual trophorestorative, relaxing nervine, demulcent, nutritive

Indications: exhaustion, cardiac weakness, nervous debility of convalescence, infertility, impotence

Contraindications and cautions:none

Medicinal uses: Oats are an exceptionally useful plant, with different uses depending upon the plant part used. Taken as the food, steel cut oats or Scottish oatmeal is an excellent food, and is said to be good for chronic constipation. Rolled oats are inferior due to the process of steaming and rolling, which depletes the grain of some of its vitamins. Prepared ‘quick oatmeal’ can hardly be considered oatmeal at all, and is processed to the point that very little goodness of the grain remains. Cooking oats should be soaked the night before if they are to be prepared for breakfast, which helps to denature some of the anti-nutrient compounds that are found in all grains, such as phytates. Oatmeal has the honour of being a grain with a fairly low glycemic index, and thus is well tolerated in moderate amounts even by those who have been recommended to avoid grains and cereals generally, in the treatment of insulin resistance, although sweetening the porridge with anything other than a little fruit should certainly be avoided. In confirmed cases of celiac disease, as well as in autoimmune and inflammatory bowel disease, oats, oatstraw tea and even the milky oat seed tincture should be removed from the diet. In otherwise tolerant persons, the crushed or steel-cut oat groats can also be dry roasted like coffee and prepared as a beverage that is said to be good for the diarrhoea, dysentery, nausea, and irritable conditions of the stomach, as well as to help clear the skin of blemishes (Felter and Lloyd 1893; Culpepper 1652). Some sources indicate that a tincture can also be prepared from the fresh dried steel cut oats, for a similar activity to the Milky Oats (see below). Used topically, oatmeal is an excellent emollient and demulcent in inflamed, irritated and itchy skin. For this purpose a clean sock can be filled with the crushed grain, which is then soaked in hot water for 15-20 minutes. The sock is then used to sponge the affected area, squeezing out the liquid contained in the oats, while the patient sits in a bath or tub. The fresh milky oats, or what we will call Avena, is an exceptionally important and useful remedy in nervous debility and exhaustion, and is the best all-purpose restorative in the Western materia medica. Its activities upon the nervous system, while not profoundly sedative, are relaxing and restorative, promoting a good sleep, and is an effective treatment in chronic insomnia. For this purpose Avena is often combined with herbs such as Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)and Valerian Valeriana officinalis). In cases of convalescence from severe diseases Avena can be used to strengthen resistance and increase vitality. Unlike the oat groats, the Milky Oat is generally thought to be a cooling herb, and is especially indicated in any kind of irritation or inflammation with debility. This especially extends to sensations of burning, flushing, or night sweats, along with complaints of chronic exhaustion and fatigue. The ability of Avena to reduce irritable states generally also makes it an important remedy in the treatment of drug withdrawal, and has been used in the past and more recently to help wean patients off of opioids and nicotine, along with botanicals such as Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica). In chronic inflammatory joint disease Milky Oats can be used as an adjunct to help reduce inflammation and pain, and to strengthen the joints and prevent further articular degeneration. It is also widely considered to be an important remedy for a weak heart, and is suitable in geriatrics along with herbs such as Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthoides). In recent years Avena has become to be thought of as an important remedy in sexual debility, in both men and women. In women, Avena is helpful in infertility and amenorrhea, as well as in nervousness, insomnia and anxiety associated with premenstrual syndrome. Avena is also an excellent post-partum restorative, and can help to increase breast milk production. In men, the adage of “sowing your oats,” provides a clue as to the effect upon male reproductive function. As such, Avena has been observed to be an excellent restorative in male impotence, male menopause and infertility. Physician Eli G. Jones recommended a tincture of the fresh seed in such cases, along with a third decimal trituration of Kali Phos, three tablets every three hours. Felter and Lloyd state that in cases of prostatic irritation, urinary tenesmus and spermatorrhea Avena may be helpful, be combined with herbs such as Saw Palmetto (Serenoa serrulata) and Willow (Salix nigra) catkins (1893). The window of opportunity to harvest the milky seeds is somewhat limited during the growing season, lasting only about a week. Oatstraw is used as an infusion as a good source of bioavailable minerals such as silica and calcium, and can be consumed with other similar plants such as Horsetail and Nettle as a mineral-rich supplement to the diet. It does not display the same activities upon the nervous and reproductive systems as the milky seed, and sometimes there is confusion over this in the marketplace, where Oatstraw preparations are recommended for nervous and sexual debility.

Pharmacy and dosage:
Fresh Plant Tincture: fresh milky seed, 1:2, 95% alcohol, 3-30 gtt
Dry Plant Tincture: fresh dried crushed or steel cut oats, 1:3, 3-60 gtt.
Hot Infusion: oatstraw, 1:20, ad lib