Aug 102008

Latin Name: Avena sativa, Avena fatua
Common Names: Milky Oats, Wild Oats, Catgrass
Taste: Sweet
Energetics: Neutral to Sl. Warm, Sl. Moist
Actions: Nervous and endocrine resorative, relaxant and stimulant nervine, antispasmodic

This vibrant green grain has slowly but surely become a very important (and lately, necessary) ally for me. Infinitely useful in our burned out, mentally overworked and emotionally underfed culture, I find myself dispensing this sweet herb on regular basis. Personally, this has been an important helper in restoring some of the diminished elasticity and “bounce backness” of both my physical and emotional wellbeing.

I should be clear that I am specifically speaking of the Oat tops, harvested in their milky stage (in other words, the unripe seed when full of a white milky fluid, before they become “oats”) and preserved fresh, usually in alcohol. Oatstraw and dried Oat tops are lovely, but they’re a different medicine (to be discussed here sometime in the near future).

This year I was able to harvest a bit of my own and also ordered some from the wonderful Zack Woods Herb Farm. And to top it off, Darcey often has a great abundance of Wild Oats in her Sonoran bioregion and has generously offered to harvest some for me next spring.

The plants are quite easy to grow if you can just keep the critters out of them, I lost about 3/4 of my crop this year to the beasties but still managed to get enough for some tea and tincture. In case you don’t want to buy some huge amount (100 lbs or so) of seed, you can look for organic catgrass seed, which is just Oats. You can get it cheap and in small amounts this way. If you live in a very warm climate, the milky heads may be ready sometime near the beginning of May, but this year here in the mountains ours matured at the same time as Vermont’s did, about a week ago. In general, they tend to be closer to the beginning of July, but we’ve had abnormally cool nights this year in New Mexico.

Milky Oats’ most remarkable actions tend to be seen in exhaustion. It is a profound restorative for the nervous and endocrine systems which are so easily depleted by a stressful lifestyle and bad diet. It’s no replacement for proper nutritional therapy but an excellent therapeutic agent for the process of healing. It seems to directly provide a special sort of “nerve food” for the body, to rebuild the nervous apparatus in a way that is both nutritional and yet more.

Avena is quite helpful helpful where there is mental and physical exhaustion along with inability to focus, heart palpitations, loss of libido, irritability and potential addiction issues. This isn’t a random list of symptoms, it’s a real pattern that’s worth keeping in mind.

Ellingwood may have described it best in his overview of Avena:

Its selective influence is directly upon the brain and upon the nutritive functions of the organism, increasing nerve force and improving the nutrition of the entire system. The influence of a single full dose is promptly felt, similar to the influence of any active stimulant, but more permanent. It is a stimulant, sedative and direct nutritive tonic, apparently restoring the wasted elements of nerve force…

It is a remedy of great utility in loss of nerve power and in muscular feebleness from lack of nerve force.

In the overworked conditions of brain workers–ministers, physicians or lawyers—in the general prostration from great anxiety and worry…

With these, there is so-called nervous dyspepsia, atonicity, in fact, of the entire gastrointestinal tract. There is heart feebleness with some irregularity; there is cool skin and cool or cold extremities: there is melancholia, irritability, peevishness, vagaries of thought, morbid desires and fancies, usually accompanied with autotoxemia which demands persistent elimination. With these avena is directly indicated.

In sexual neurasthenia it is the remedy par excellence, as it has a selective influence upon the nerve structure of the genito-urinary apparatus…

In conjunction with cactus, or apocynum, as these remedies are indicated, it will be found of much service in the treatment of weak heart, and the resulting complications.

In addition, there is also often an underlying sense of depression, a deep dark hole that can be felt through the anxiety and exhaustion. A slow but steady lessening of interest in life, often due to the simle lack of energy needed to maintain such interest and activity, although sometimes complicated by a deep seated emotional sadness, feelings of loss and unresolved grief. Tucson herbalist Charlie Kane states that:

There is some difficulty in describing what Wild oats actually does; it is not an overt sedative, nor is the plant overtly stimulating, but this does not detract from the fact that if you are physically and emotionally “rode hard and put away wet” the plant imparts a sense of stability.

Depressive states arising out of pushing through workload on the job or at home are lifted. The edginess and frayed-end feeling of kicking nicotine, opiate or alcohol habits is also lessened. As Michael Moore succinctly puts it, “This is crispy critter medicine”.

This is also a wonderful remedy for any case of great grief from loss. A teacher of mine, when faced with huge grief from the untimely loss of a loved one, found the only way he could stay afloat (and alive) was by juicing and drinking large amounts of fresh Milky Oats (he also found that Elderflower tincture helped a great deal). In addition, Henriette Kress says:

Milky oats is the single best herb for sudden loss, be it from the tsunamis in Asia or from cancer in somebody close to you. I recommend it both for those who are directly affected by the loss and sorrow and for those who stand beside them, frustrated by their sheer helplessness.

While Milky Oats is a classic overall nerve restorative and relaxant, it does have some very specific indications. Perhaps foremost is when someone’s nerves are so deeply burnt out and hypersensitive that they can’t stand to be touched. Even when they want a hug, the stimulation of intimate contact will make them feel like pulling their hair out. I have vividly experienced this myself and also observed several times in clients. Skullcap is also quite specific for sensory hypersensitivity but Milky Oats excels where the sense of touch is the most sensitive aspect. Skullcap and Milky Oats also combine exceptionally well for a great many cases of nervous exhaustion.

Ashwagandha and Milky Oats is another favorite combo of mine, especially for adrenal burnout with insomnia, nervousness, inability to focus, lack of libido and sensory hypersensitivity. They also combine nicely with Nettle Seeds when there’s exhaustion to the point of chronic fatigue and ongoing lack of vital energy. 4And then there’s the wonderful Peaches ‘n Cream formula, a tasty combo of Peach twig and Milky Oats that is fabulous for overheated, red-faced, can’t relax type A people who really need some nourishment and chill out time.

While material doses of a dropperful can be useful and certainly safe with such a gentle herb, I find that I often use closer to seven to ten drops at a time. It’s best repeated quite often (a min. of three times per day) and used steadily over a period of at least several months. The only side effect I’ve ever noticed is the tendency to bring on mild hot flashes in some people, that effect seems to lessen of a period of taking the herb so it may just be a symptom of an initial increase in vital force. It could potentially be too moistening for some individuals, but where it is clearly indicated it is unlikely to cause any adverse effects.


Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West by Michael Moore
Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
Notes from Materia Medica lectures by Matthew Becker (NAIMH)
Class notes from Charles Garcia
Henriette’s Herbal
Hard Rock and Milky Oats by Angie Goodloe


  25 Responses to “Sweet Cream: The Medicine of Milky Oats”

  1. Hallo Kiva,

    I just harvested a whole load of milky oats, wanting to use them for exactly the set of symptoms you describe – and then dried them, thinking I needed to take them as an infusion. Are they any good at all for these symptoms now? If not, do you know where can I get good milky oat tincture that can be shipped over to Norway?

  2. Mmmm, perfect timing for me, Kiva. Thanks. 🙂

  3. Pamela, the infusion will be a great mineral rich tonic for your nerves and endocrine system, but it will work more slowly and is more nutritive than anything else. It’s still a wonderful medicine though.

    I don’t know anything about herbs and international shipping, sorry to say…

  4. Kiva such a wonderful article. I am interested in your thoughts on making a tincture with fresh vs. dried Milky Oats.

  5. Pamela: you should be able to buy milky oats tincture in any health food store – look for Bioforce’s (or Vogel’s) “Avena” tincture.

  6. QiHealer, I wouldn’t tincture dried oat tops, they won’t have the same qualities at all… I’d keep them for infusions instead.

  7. Thats what I was thinking as well, I have some arriving soon. The reference I have says tincture 1g fresh oats to 2ml of [75% alcohol and 25% water] is this what you would recommend as well or do you have other suggestions.

    Thanks for your help, Jim

  8. I use a proportion of 1:2 in 95% alcohol, but 75% would likely work fine too. In fact, I’ve used as low as 50% and had it come fine, not as strong but still useful.

  9. I have a question for you about nettle seeds, since you mentioned them in this post I hope you don’t mind if I verge off of oats for a quick question about nettle seeds…
    I have LOTS of healthy vibrant nettles on my property they have lots of seeds drooping abundantly off of them, but everytime I pick them and eat a couple I either burn my fingers or the inside of my mouth, which is no fun. Is there some basic thing here I’m missing, how are you able to just eat them fresh without getting burned?

  10. well, I don’t usually eat them fresh because I find them far too speedy that way. If you dry them, the stingingness well go away. If you’re intent on eating them fresh, you can rub them around in your hands or on a piece of cloth and that will greatly reduce the problem.

  11. ah, milky oats. You should’ve recommended folks get ahold of a black light so they can trip out on the glowing tincture…

    Super nice tincture to use as a base for formulas… juts made myself a blend of milky oats, violet and lemon balm the other day.

    Fresh nettle and milky oats tincture combined excels at helping people switch from chronic adrenal/sympathetic excess into metabolic/parasympathetic balance.

    Milky Oats is the plant that should become the highly arketed herb fad – so broadly applicable, so unlikely to cause aggravations, even among a wide array of constitutions.

  12. My husband is exactly the profile for milky oats but he is a recovering alcoholic. I have him drinking the dried oatstraw infusion every day but can’t use a fresh alcohol tincture with him. do you know if a glycerite would be effective? Also, the juicing idea is great. here in northern cali oats grow wild all over our property and our friends properties and their friends properties…but its a short window where they are green. maybe freezing the juice? anyways, just mainly wondering about a glycerine tincture of milky oats.

  13. hah, jim, i didn’t know that about the blacklight and how would i? being without electricity an all, heh.

    yep i agree, great formula base and would certainly warrant being the next giant fad herb, our culture could use a giant milky oats bath.

    rowan, I haven’t used milky oat glycerite but I’ve known other people who have successfully. I think it’s certainly worth a try. without electricity I’m unable to freeze my herbs, but I think that’s also worth a try. let me know how it goes.

    not all recovering alcoholics need to avoid tinctures either. it never bothered me, but it totally depends on the individual.

  14. Wow, such helpful information here Kiva! Thank you thank you thank you…

  15. hmmm… a black candle?

  16. When you say just the seed for the tincture, you mean no stalk at all right?

    Any idea of roughly how many seeds I need to sow in order to get enough seed for say 500mls tincture? I’ve grown oatstraw before so have a sense of that, but I seem to remember there’s not much seed to each stalk.

    Also, do you think there is much difference between wild oat and the cultivated ones?

  17. Hi kate, I don’t use any stalk. Well, you know, it’s confusing to me because I planted a small bed (2′.5″x3′) but I lost so many to bugs and grazers etc that I didn’t end up getting very much, but I think if I would have had plenty for a quart or two of tincture had they all survived. They’re sure easy to grow if nothing eats them! That’s not a very specific answer, is it? LOL

    I think the wild ones, as per usual, tend to be stronger, at least the ones from NM and AZ tend to be stronger than the cultivated ones. But in general I don’t think it’s a large difference, they both seem to work very well.

    If you harvest the first batch of seed/fruit from the stalk by only cutting it back as far as needed to get the seed/fruit, then you’ll often get a second batch of oats from that plant, so they go further that way.

    Hope some of that is helpful.

  18. Thanks, that is helpful 🙂

  19. I am learning about the milky oats.. and have made some tincture.. hoping it is the answer for my hubby how is suffering from nerve pain, ,, which in turn comes anxiety and then depression..
    I am wondering what to do with the green oats that have dried rock hard.. what would I be able to use them for.. maybe the infusion.. or could I use them in a vinegar infusion.. I am lucky to have learned some of this wonder herb that is growing right in front of us.. everywhere.. I have gathered some but I fear not enough.. I like the idea of the tinctures.. there is so much to learn..

  20. Daisy,

    I’ve never seen milky oat tops dry rock hard… but yes, the dried milky oat tops are wonderful for infusions as well as vinegar tinctures.

    So glad you have such an abundance, it is a wonderful ally.


  21. I wonder then if the oats were harvested at the wrong time,, It was earlier on in the summer when I harvested them.. it’s all experimental for me this year.. I am learining by doing and researching as I go..
    I do think I got the perfect oats my last time out for the tinctures.. they were really full and milky.. I made some vinegar as well.. I am hopeful it will make a difference for my Husband who is depleted .. and suffering.. with pain.. and depression .. I am in search for a answer for him.
    I will let you know if you like of any success with this wonder herb.. thanks for your help.. I will use the dried and hard oats for infusions ..

  22. Is anyone still monitoring this post? I grew some oats this season, harvested some a couple of weeks ago in the milky stage and dried them in the barn for tea. When I was looking things up today prior to processing them, I discovered that I could have made a tincture from the fresh milky oat tops. It sounds like, from the comments here, it’s too late to make a tincture from the dried ones. Is that right? I originally grew and dried these for my mom for tea, but now am thinking that my father-in-law would also benefit. He, however, would be unlikely to brew and drink them as tea, so I thought of the tincture. So, if it’s not too late and I can still make tincture from the dried tops, would someone let me know? Thanks!

    • Yes, it is too late, Bekah. Fresh milky oats and dried oatstraw are different medicines, you can read my more recent post on Oatstraw (called Wild as the Day is Long if you want to search for it) to read more about that.

  23. Dear Kiva–

    What a wonderful article. My sister and I have decided to start in on the Milky Oat Tops tincture. We both are also drinking raw apple cider vinegar (diluted) each day. Can you tell me, are the two compatible and should there be any specific amount of time between ingesting the two different things?

    Thank you.

  24. Oh, and one more question regarding tinctures. If I boil some water and remove it from the stove, then put the drops of tincture into the hot water and let the water cool, is it true that the alcohol will evaporate and the herbal concoction will be unharmed and still as effective?

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>