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Herb of the week: Oats.

Botanical name: 

Photo: Avena sativa 2. A short profile:

Latin: Avena sativa and other species of Avena.
Family: Poaceae, grass family.
Parts used: 1) milky seeds, 2) oat straw, 3) oats.
Taste: Bland, sweet.
4 humors: Moist, cool.


  • The milky seed is an exceptional nervine.
  • The greens are very nutritious.
  • The oats ("oatmeal"), boiled, are very soothing to the mucous membranes of the intestinal tract.


  • You can use any species of oats for milky oats or for green oat straw.
  • If you snip off the seedhead for your milky oats, you'll get another crop in a few weeks time. Oats is, after all, an annual.
  • I expect that you could use any species for oatmeal as well, but the usual one is Avena sativa.
  • While oats doesn't by itself contain gluten, "normal" oats usually contain minute amounts of glutenous grains. This could be because of crop circulation (growing one grain after another means that some of last years crop will grow this year as well), because of the harvesters and grain storage not being completely cleaned between crops, or because the mill doesn't take care to clean out all gluten-containing grains. Whichever it is, gluten-sensitives do well to avoid "normal" oats.


  • I love to give milky oats to all kinds of stressed people. It is especially good for grief. It also helps the helplessly frustrated bystanders: give it to somebody whose spouse gets a bad cancer, or whose child has a devastating diagnosis, or whose best friend lost their child. And similar.
  • It's also good for those who ask me for some herb to help them overwork themselves even more. (What they ask for is stimulants; what I give them is milky oats, and a lecture: the graveyards are filled with indispensable people.)
  • I save the green straw when I pick the milky seeds, and dry them for a mineral-rich tea. Usually, I have quite a lot more stinging nettles in my cupboard, though.
  • The oats, boiled, are really very very good in all kinds of gastric upset, provided the person can handle gluten. Serve the bland pap with a dash of butter, some salt, some cinnamon, or some berries; any of those will make it more palatable.

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Juliette Martin
    thank you! perfect post as I have been this week delving into avena. Can it only be planted in the fall or can I take a chance at sowing some now?
    11 April at 13:38
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    I've usually sown it in spring, so go ahead!
    11 April at 13:48
  • From Diane Hamilton Coe:
    I've allowed some oat straw to go to seed in my garden. I'm a little concerned though about it's source and was wondering this morning if I should pull it or use the milky oats even though I know the farmer isn't organic. Any thoughts?
    11 April at 15:05
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Grown from non-organic oats in an organic garden? I'd use it.
    11 April at 15:27
  • From John Davidson:
    Jugo de avena (oat juice) is a popular beverage in Costa Rica, particularly in the rural areas. Delicious, not to mention the health benefits. Have you tried it? If not, simply let it (cup of oats, 4 or 5 cups of water) sit overnight. I put a tiny bit of agave syrup with it. Or not. One of my favorites!
    11 April at 20:18
  • From Neil Williams:
    Hi, can you explain the difference between oat seeds and oats?
    11 April at 20:27
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    John: is that from ripe or unripe seed?
    Neil: Milky oats vs. oatmeal, you mean? Milky oats is the green seed in milky sap, oats is what you use in porridge.
    11 April at 20:52
  • From John Davidson:
    Henriette: We just use them out of a big bin the farmer's wife keeps in the kitchen. They appear to be rolled, which they may do with a machine similar to that used to squish juice from cane. It's powered by oxen! (Oh my! talk about a lovely juice, the fresh squeezed cane! NO chemicals or pesticides, at least in the cane we have at the farm.)
    11 April at 21:07
  • From Neil Williams:
    Thanks, so only the milky oats in green sap is the nervous trophorestorative - you did mention this before? Thanks
    11 April at 23:00
  • From Latisha Guthrie:
    i love the little bits of humor and reality you always offer with your shares. and i am really loving your book!!! thank you for putting it out to the world. It is so very applicable to the folks i work with. One of the most approachable herb books i've seen. Will be recommending it widely.
    12 April at 03:17
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    John: yep, that's the ripe seed, rolled flat. I'll try that recipe, thanks!
    Neil: yes, the milky seed is the nerve magic.
    Latisha: :-) Thanks!
    12 April at 08:47
  • From Mudslinger Pottery:
    I love Groats, (whole Oats) and the juice off of them and milky oats and barely are also really excellent for people who have ulcers and or spastic/ulcerated colon issues...Love your site!
    12 April at 20:07
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    ‎:-) Thanks for that, Mudslinger!
    12 April at 20:16
  • From Pam Barone:
    So useful, I have used the oat straw tea and I truly love eating oats. Did you know you can toast oats in a skillet the same way you might toast spices or rice before adding liquid? Season as you might any savory side dish (such as rice or quinoa) and once the added liquid is absorbed the oat grains will be fluffy and separate like any other grain. I got the original recipe from a Quaker Oats mini-cookbook.
    11 April at 12:09
  • From Naturopathic Way:
    As many have mentioned, Oats are a favourite and regularly used herb by many herbalists. I like to use as a tea, bath infusion, and tincture (and as a wholefood for breakfast!). I particulary like Green Oats.
    15 April at 04:13

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Jane MacR.
    Date: 2012 04 11 - 12:50:13 +0300

    Working in allergies 1985 a patient with horrible allergies and facial eczema tolerated oats and avocados in her diet so one morning when she couldn't face the world with a face scarlet with her skin condition I made a mash of avocado and oat porridge and slathered it all over her face which was clear in 20 minutes - it reminded me of a box of American books I was given as a child when sick, when someone's aunt used oats as a face pack too (The "Limber Lost" book I think")

  • From Madeline K
    Date: 2012 04 12 - 04:31:28 +0300

    Avena has helped me heal on many levels over the last decade or so. I like a little oat porridge with butter and an egg for breakfast and oatstraw decoction several times a week.

    After reading so much here about milky oat tincture, it seems like it would help with some of the post-menopausal grumpies? Does this sound right?

    Thanks, love this forum


  • From Christophe Bernard
    Date: 2012 04 13 - 09:49:18 +0300

    I like to use it along with other herbs in the typical cases of nervous tension leading to *exhaustion*, person having gone through a long period of sustained stress, and has given it all, exhaustion sets in, with lack of motivation, feeling of empty head, etc. Care has to be taken at this stage or person could slide into a period of depression.

    Good examples can be found in the corporate world, mid or high level execs being sent around the world, spending half of their life in planes, and working crazy hours.

  • From elaine mcdaniel
    Date: 2012 04 14 - 15:37:41 +0300

    I love milky oats and make a tincture every year. I gave it to one woman who's child was having PTSD after an incident with a dog. The girl was having horrible nightmares and woke up screaming every night. Milky Oats tincture ( I add a smidge of glycerine) settled her down the first night. I did give her a little mind game to play with the child as well. Telling the child ~for sure~ this was going to help her have sweet dreams and sleep well and had mom plant a lovely dream in the child's mind as she went to sleep.

    Milky Oats -- I reach for it when the "frazzled" or "wired" come around. For me, I use it when I'm cranky, If I need help finding a smile --- albizia is still my favorite.

    Oat Straw is in my 'mineral blend' for overnight infusion. I can't say I feel the minerals running around in my body like I do the milky oats though I ~believe~ they are. ;-) The blend is (nettles, dandelion leaf, oat straw, horsetail and occasionally peppermint)

    elaine in TX

  • From Denise B.
    Date: 2012 04 14 - 22:56:36 +0300

    I credit milky oat tea for saving my marriage. I was in post-partum depression, stressed out working on a PhD, and had pretty much lost it. This list gave me the idea of milky oats for depletion and depression. I would make the tea with the gentlest 20-minute simmer and drink before bed. The improvement took some time---a couple months?---but was wonderful in so many ways. It was as though one morning a veil of darkness lifted from my eyes and i was able to love my husband again.

    The tea isn't "supposed" to work as well as the tincture. And i have tried using the tincture. But, i dunno. It just doesn't feel right. I love the tea.

    I continue to be stressed out (in the PhD homestretch while working & being bread-winner for the family), which takes a toll on my already-weak digestion. Although i have other more powerful tools, steel-cut oat porridge for breakfast has also been very nice. I find that warm soaking the oats 24hr before cooking helps digestibility and gives a much longer-lasting feeling of fullness afterward. The fatty yogurt and coconut oil i put on them might have something to do with the fullness as well :-)

    So i have every intention of growing oats, and harvesting in the milky stage, once i get my garden going again (this PhD is trouble in more ways than one). If anyone has any insight, i'd love to hear it! I have access to a friend's garden for this year.

    With love and appreciation for this list!

  • From Henriette Kress
    Date: 2012 04 15 - 09:30:52 +0300

    > This list gave me the idea of milky oats for depletion and depression. > I would make the tea with the gentlest 20-minute simmer and drink before bed.

    So you dry milky seeds and then use them as a tea? Or do you freeze the fresh milky seeds and then use those as a tea?


    > So i have every intention of growing oats, and harvesting in the milky stage, once i get my garden going again (this PhD is trouble in more ways than one). If anyone has any insight, i'd love to hear it!

    Oats is an annual ... just spread your seeds in a likely spot, don't pull them up as "couchgrass", and wait until late summer, when they'll flower. (That's in our climate ... dunno where you're at.)

  • From Denise B.
    Date: 2012 04 15 - 14:51:50 +0300

    I purchased the dried seed tops from a wonderful herb farm and used those. They're not supposed to work that way, are they?

    If the dried seeds have been so helpful for me, I'm really looking forward to trying them fresh :-) ... thank you for the tips! Northern New England is probably similar in climate, i think.

    The Recipe:

    On the gentlest of simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes (which can range anywhere between 5 -90 minutes depending ... ) using really beautifully dried milky seeds.

    I like the taste, i like the warmth, i like the steam... i like tea. Tinctures are fine i suppose (i do often add lemon balm tincture to my milky oat tea), but i love teas. I suspect the process is as healing for me as the herb in this case.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

This plant will be in my next book ("Practical Herbs 2"), out in 2013 or so. Buy "Practical Herbs", it's excellent!.