Common name: Milky oats
Other names: Oat seed
Latin name: Avena sativa
Affinities: Nervous system
Actions: Nervine tonic, sedative, nervine trophorestorative, antidepressant
Specific indications: Nervous debility, exhaustion, mental stress, poor sleep, emotionally unstable, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal anxiety, mood swings
Diseases: Anxiety(3), stress(3), insomnia(3), depression(3)
Parts used: Milky oat seed when ripe
Energetics: Warming, moistening
Characteristics: Oats is an annual grass that has been cultivated for over 5000 years and while the mature seed is commonly eaten as a food, the immature seed is used as a medicine (Singh et al., 2013). Oats is commonly cultivated in Northern American and Europe, but also in Russia and China. For just one week of the growing cycle of oats, the developing oat seed is filled with fresh white milk. If the undried seeds are harvested quickly and made into tincture, they make an excellent nervine trophorestorative agent (Winston, 2007).
History: Oat seed has a deep history of traditional use with both Eclectic and Ayurvedic physicians using it as a nerve tonic, cardiac, antispasmodic, and antidepressant (Hechtman, 2013; Singh et al., 2013). Oats also has a tradition of medicinal use in Europe, making its medicinal origins difficult to pinpoint (Leporatti et al., 2003). Oats were used by the Eclectic physicians in 19th century America, and in King’s American dispensary it is written, ‘This plant is a nerve-tonic, stimulant, and antispasmodic. It ranks among the most important restoratives for conditions depending upon nervous prostration’ (Felter and Lloyd, 1898). Nervous prostration is defined as, ‘extreme mental and physical fatigue caused by excessive emotional stress’.
Current applications: Fresh milky oat seed is one of the most gentle nervines and is widely used by herbalists, particuarly in the United States. David Winston has said he thinks fresh milky oat seed is the greatest nervous system trophorestorative (Winston, 2007). Trophorestorative refers to a food to nourish a particular organ or tissue, in this case, the nervous system. It is a slow acting tonic medicine that acts to calm shattered nerves, stabilise emotions, and reduce symptoms of drug withdrawal. It is used in women with premenstrual syndrome, menopausal anxiety, and mood swings and can be applied here alongside adaptogenic herbs.
Science: Avena sativa seeds are rich in important nutrients such as vitamins B1, B2, E, A, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese (Singh et al., 2013). The reason for the potent medicinal properties of fresh milky oats may be related to the high vitamin B content of the fresh seeds. B vitamins are an essential nutritive support for the nervous system (Prickett et al., 1934). Although there are no human studies on Avena sativa seeds, there is one study published in Nature that used Avena sativa fresh leaf and found it helpful in withdrawing smokers from nicotine addiction (Anand, 1971). The author claims to have obtained from remedy from an Ayurvedic physician in India who used Avena sativa for treating individuals addicted to opium.
Dosage: 40-60 drops of tincture 2-3 times daily. Milky oat seed is very mild and I haven’t seen an effect at the lower doses of around 10 drops.
Form: It is recommended to use a tincture made from fresh oat seed in the milky stage. Also used are aerial parts when it is in the milky stage in Europe and oat straw which is a different remedy alltogether.
Research on models
Anti-oxidant activity: Oat seeds have found to contain avenanthramides, compounds with free radical scavenging activity (Singh et al., 2013).
Research on humans
Nicotine addiction: This study was using tincture extracted from fresh leaf, but these data imply Avena sativa is useful in nicotine withdrawal (Anand, 1971).
Anand, C. L. “Effect of Avena sativa on cigarette smoking.” Nature 233.5320 (1971): 496-496.
Felter, Harvey and Lloyd, John. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.
Hechtman, Leah. Clinical naturopathic medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2013.
Leporatti, Maria Lucia, and Stephanie Ivancheva. “Preliminary comparative analysis of medicinal plants used in the traditional medicine of Bulgaria and Italy.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 87.2 (2003): 123-142.
Prickett, C. O. “The effect of a deficiency of vitamin B1 upon the central and peripheral nervous systems of the rat.” American Journal of Physiology–Legacy Content 107.2 (1934): 459-470.
Singh, Rajinder, Subrata De, and Asma Belkheir. “Avena sativa (Oat), a potential neutraceutical and therapeutic agent: an overview.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 53.2 (2013): 126-144.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.