Now that the weather is seriously cooling down and the days are getting shorter and shorter, who wouldn’t want a “hug in a cup”? That’s how I refer to milky oats tea, one of my favorites for when I’m feeling stressed out, strung out, down and out, and just generally depleted. Ever feel that way?
In today’s modern, crazy world, chances are you’ve had those days, weeks, even months. Enter milky oats – Avena sativa – the ‘Avena’ means ‘nourishing’ in Latin!
In the Poaceae (grass) family, milky oats provides a host of essential vitamins and minerals that nourish the body as a whole. These include calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, and silicon – in addition to Vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K., starch and soluble fiber. The high silicon content alone feeds healthy skin, nails, hair, bones, and teeth.
But we herbalists rarely use an herb for a single constituent, and the power of oats with all its nutritive goodness strengthens connective tissue and blood vessels, mucosa, and nerves.
That last part is why I call milky oats a “hug in a cup”. It has a long tradition of being used in times of nervous exhaustion, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, stress, and general debility. Its nerve-relaxing properties are sometimes even used to ease withdrawal symptoms from addiction.
If you have been burning the candle at both ends, don’t know which way is up, or are at your wit’s end, then milky oats may just be the hug that you need. It’s slightly sweet, slightly ‘green’, and the mildly milky consistency rolls off the tongue and smoothly down the throat. It just feels good!
How to enjoy milky oats
There are several ways of getting therapeutic doses of milky oats. My favorite, as suggested above, is to steep it like a tea. Even inhaling the aroma of the slightly sweet, green, and moistening brew can break the tension of a long, frustrating day.
If you are buying dried oats, be sure to get ‘milky oat SEED’, as the oat STRAW has different properties (still useful, but less of a nerve tonic). The seeds should be harvested at the milky stage (see photo above), and lightly chopped in a blender to break open the seed pods for better steeping.
For a good cuppa, don’t be shy in pouring in the dried oats. Use a couple of teaspoons or more in two cups of boiling water. Steep for at least 15 minutes, or even longer. Strain and enjoy over a novel sitting by the fire. Oats pairs well with other calming herbs such as holy basil, lemon balm, and peppermint, all of which add additional, soothing flavor to the fairly mild oat taste.
Another way to receive the benefits of milky oats is to use a tincture of (preferably fresh) oats. This is more concentrated and more convenient than drinking tea. But the downside is that the ‘added medicine’ of forcing oneself to stop and enjoy the sensory experience that preparing the tea brings to sight, smell, taste, and touch. I have seen a wide variety in the recommended daily dose, anywhere from 2ml 3 times/day up to 16 mls/day. Oats is particularly safe, so dose liberally.
NOTE: take care if you are gluten-sensitive due to potential cross-contamination.
Ever take an oatmeal bath? This versatile herb is also soothing topically, particularly for dry, itchy skin (think eczema, psoriasis, winter-dryness-blues). And, like its internal use, oats used topically (in a lotion or salve, compress or poultice, in addition to a bath) can be useful for easing symptoms of neuralgia and rheumatism.
Here’s a really simple, at-home-do-it-yourself oat bath recipe, courtesy of justapinch.com.
A note about overall efficacy…
While the simple act of taking time out of your busy day to boil water, measure the herbs, inhale the fragrant aroma as they steep, and then drink over many minutes is quite calming in the moment, taking milky oats regularly over time can improve your overall mood and ability to cope with challenges that life throws your way (like all those holiday obligations that have you running ragged?).
Just be patient, though, because it may take a few weeks to notice the full effect. And if you are still not getting the relief you would like, increase the dose (and/or see a professional herbalist for addressing deeper imbalances).
In summary, be thankful for our herbal partners, like milky oats, that help us make it through the dark winter days and bustling holiday season.
Feel free to contact me to share what YOU are thankful for, or if I may serve you in any way.
Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
Mars, B. (2016). The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine: The Ultimate Multidisciplinary Reference to the Amazing Realm of Healing Plants, in a Quick-Study, One-Stop Guide (2nd ed.). Basic Health Publications, Inc.
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.