Avena Sativa: Oats in the Morning, Nerve Tonic for the Night

You awake in the morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal, perhaps with sprinkled-in raisins, berries and whatever you find in the pantry. Bite by bite, you enjoy your oats—sipping them down with some fragrant coffee, preparing for the day ahead. Little do you know that you’re eating a medicinal plant with a rich tradition of use, a plant called Avena Sativa—and its green grains picked in their milky stage have a host of surprising health benefits. Commonly referred to as milky oats in the herbalism world, this plant is a nervous system restorative herb with uses for mental fatigue, skin conditions, depressed mood and as a nutritive tonic for a tense body & mind. The milky oat tops of Avena Sativa are filled with minerals and vitamins and are a nourishing nerve tonic for anyone feeling mentally depleted. Let us now explore some of the traditional uses, research and preparation methods of Avena Sativa to see the extraordinary healing qualities of this seemingly ordinary plant. Traditional Uses of Milky Oats:

Nervous System Tonic

Since the days of the Eclectic physicians (19th century MD’s who practiced herbalism) milky oats have had a reputation as tropho-restorative of the nervous system, hormone glands, skin and heart. Tropho-restorative herbs in essence “feed” depleted organ systems and nourish them back into robust health. Tropho-restorative herbs are particularly useful for chronic issues that have led to depletion over long courses of time. Milky oats express particular benefit for a nervous system that is exhausted from long periods of stress—which can manifest as headaches, poor concentration, memory loss, chronic depression/anxiety and restlessness. Rich in nutrients, trace minerals like magnesium/calcium and vitamins B, D & E it relaxes and nourishes a strained nervous system. It is key to note that the milky oats specifically are associated with these properties, not the commonly mistaken oat straw, which although from the same plant and rich in minerals are used more often for joint disorders and inflammatory issues. (1)



Hormonal Regulation

Milky oats are theorized to affect the hormonal systems of the thyroid, adrenals, reproductive organs through its effects on the HPA & HPG axis which are essential how the nervous system/brain interfaces with the hormone glands and regulates their secretions. It is well researched that long-term chronic stress impacts this system and leads to dysregulations in hormonal levels, which is why people with chronic stress may lose weight, have irregular menstrual cycles, have poor libido etc. For a basic refresher on the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis check out: “HPA Axis dysfunction and its role in mental wellness” & to better understand how chronic stress response causes anxiety in some check out: Understanding the Stress Response. Due to how the nervous system effects our hormones, Avena Sativa finds use for reproductive issues, menstrual cycle irregularities and for boosting what Chinese medicine calls Kidney Qi Deficiency—which is essentially “adrenal fatigue” plus symptoms related to reproductive glands in both males and females. (1)

Skin Conditions

Ever heard of the lotion product that sounds a lot like Avena, but ends with an “o”? You may have noticed that Avena Sativa is in it, sometimes labeled as simply “oats” and that many other skincare products also contain portions of this plant. The reason for this is the tradition of use of colloidal oatmeal & oatstraw baths which have a softening and moisturizing quality on skin that helps with many skin conditions characterized by dryness & itching. From a holistic perspective, the nervous system and skin are very intricately linked and actually come from the same embryo cells that differentiate into the “ectoderm”. This is possibly why there is a such a relationship between stress and skin outbreaks of all sorts, because as creepy as this sounds, your skin is essentially your nervous system externalized! For that reason, there is a good argument that even internal use of Avena Sativa could have benefit for chronic skin conditions. In the preparation section I will share a simple oatmeal bath recipe so you can have these benefits without buying expensive lotions.

Research:

Avena Sativa has quite a bit of research regarding it’s usually consumed form in oatmeal (ground up oat grains) including its positive effects on reducing inflammation, potential benefit as a prebiotic (what probiotic bacteria feed on), and relative low Glycemic index of 55 (rolled oats, not instant). There is also quite a bit of research on colloidal oatmeal and how it strengthens skin barrier, and it’s anti-inflammatory properties for itchy dry skin, but being that we are focusing on the green milky oats two interesting studies regarding the cognitive benefits of Avena Sativa come to the forefront:

1) A milky oats extract was shown in a 2015 clinical trial to increase speed of cognitive performance, improve working memory and word recall in human subjects with perceived memory loss (2)

2) A 2011 Avena Sativa extract double blind, placebo controlled, randomized study (the gold standard of research) looked at the brains of participants using an EEG, after they had been given Avena Sativa extract, and found increased activity in the left frontotemporal region of the brain (involved in cognitive tasks). This suggests potential cognitive enhancing effects of Avena Sativa and affirms the tradition of using this herb as a nerve/brain tonic. (3)

Preparation & Dosage:

1) Tincture (extract) can be made from green milky oats 1:3 strength (1g milky oats/3ml fluid) using a 40% alcohol. 2-3 ml of this tincture is the typical dose (5-6 dropperfuls). The oat straw (stalk) of Avena Sativa can also be used, but more for its mineral content and previously mentioned uses.

2) Decoction can be made by putting 10-20grams of milky oat tops into boiling water for 1 hour and sifted out—drank as a tea by the cup and particularly useful at night for sleep support.

3) How to make an Oatmeal Bath: Grind up a large cup of unflavored organic oatmeal in a blender or coffee grinder and add to a bowl of warm water, mixing it until you see the milkiness form in the water. Take this concoction and add it to a warm/hot bath and lay down in the tub enjoying the skin benefits of oats for 15 minutes or more!

Thanks for reading! Now you know the some of the healing benefits of Avena Sativa and I’m sure you’ll enjoy that bowl of oatmeal even more now knowing the marvelous qualities of this plant!

References:

1) Peter Holmes. The Energetics of Western Herbs Vol 1. 2007. Snow Lotus Press.

2) Kennedy DO, Jackson PA, Forster J, et al. Acute effects of a wild green-oat (Avena sativa) extract on cognitive function in middle-aged adults: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects trial. Nutr Neurosci. 2017;20(2):135–151. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2015.1101304

3) Dimpfel W, Storni C, Verbruggen M. Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(5):427–434. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0143