Wild Oats (Avena saliva, A. fatua), milky stage
actions: nourishing, supplementing energy, supplementing tissues and fluids, tonifying the nervous and endocrine system
organ affinities: heart, kidneys, nerves and brain
contraindications: should not be used by those with gluten or oat allergies
Wild oats are commonly used in Western herbalism in their dried form (oat straw) as a mineral rich infusion or as a heart-nourishing food (oatmeal). But the energetics and medicinal actions I’m describing here are specific to the milky stage. During a one to two week window in their maturation, oat seeds exude a milky liquid when pinched. When harvested at this time and tinctured fresh, they are an amazing tonic herb that helps rebuild exhausted nerves and adrenals. Dried oats are not the same as oats harvested in this milky stage.
Milky oats replenish the body’s reserves (especially the nervous system) on a very deep level. In our fast-paced, stress-filled, stimulant-addicted society, more and more of us are experiencing health symptoms directing linked to exhausted kidneys with burnt-out adrenals as well as nervous systems that are stuck in sympathetic fight-or-flight responses. When this happens on a chronic basis, the body has trouble calming down and switching over to parasympathetic nervous system responses. Such things as digestion, deep relaxation, sleep, and rebuilding tissues and blood all fall under the parasympathetic nervous system. We must spend adequate time in a calm, restful state for our bodies to heal and function in a healthy manner. Milky oats help our bodies to do this.
Taking milky oats alone while still burning the candle on both ends will have benefits, but they will be limited by the fact that any reserves will continue to be burned up. To really rebuild on a deep level we must also include other more balanced life approaches such as limiting caffeine and sugar, setting aside time to relax and enjoy life, taking time to exercise and breathe deeply (preferably outdoors), and eating a nutrient dense diet.
Milky Oats for Insomnia and Endocrine Exhaustion
Milky oats exhibit a marked calming effect in the body, allowing people who are frazzled, run-down, and suffering from insomnia to fall asleep sooner and sleep deeper. I often think of them when presented with a mother who is absolutely worn down from child birth, breastfeeding, and the demands of child rearing in our modern life. Often such women also suffer from intense PMS irritability or anxiety. Milky oats combined with other hormonal adaptogens such as ashwaghanda and licorice can help their bodies calm down and rebuild reserves. Milky oats are particularly effective when these symptoms are also accompanied by dryness and yin deficiency: a dry, red tongue with no coat; dry skin; frequent thirst, especially at night; and trouble staying asleep. Milky oats are very moistening and they’re excellent for replenishing fluids and building tissues in the body, thereby helping alleviate these symptoms.
Milky Oats an an Energy and Sexual Tonic
While they work to calm and nourish the body, milky oats also build energy levels when used as a tonic for an extended period of time. By helping the body to rest and regenerate, milky oats act to revitalize energy levels and give people a new zest for life. Oats have a long tradition of being considered a sexual tonic. “Sewing your wild oats” and “feeling your oats” are both sayings that harken back to this traditional view. When we consider how effective they are in helping the body to restore adrenal function and reestablish healthy nervous system functioning, it’s no wonder they have this reputation.
Milky Oats for Treatment of Addiction
People trying to quit smoking, drinking or other addictions can also benefit from milky oats. A double-blind study showed that smokers given milky oats were able to drop their cigarette consumption from an average of 19.5 to 5.7 cigarettes while the placebo group actually increased their cigarette consumption slightly (3). Many herbalists and an increasing number of acupuncturists use milky oats in their practice when treating smoking addictions and alcoholism. While I’ve not personally used milky oats for cigarette or alcohol addictions, I have used them for people who are attempting to reduce or eliminate sugar intake. It’s incredibly helpful for this. Oats are commonly combined with skullcap for drug addictions. I combine them with holy basil and licorice for sugar addictions.
Milky Oats as a Sustainable, Local Herb
Wild oats, especially in their milky stage, are incredibly beautiful, nourishing plants. They’re also widespread and abundant. Unlike many other adaptogens which are imported or must be cultivated and then purchased, oats are a common, naturalized weed in many, many areas and easily identified. Their action is safe, gentle, and dependable, provided you are not allergic to them. I encourage you to seek out and harvest your own milky oats. They are a wonderful herb to have on hand.
1. R.A. Jack, British Medical Journal 4, no. 48. (1971)
Further Resources for Milky Oats:
Adaptogens Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steve Maimes
Milky Oats by Kiva Rose
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Thomas Avery Garran