Stressed? Exhausted? Just need a wellness boost? Give your nervous system the relief it needs with milky oats. Here’s how to ID and use them.
Properties of Milky Oats
- Botanical Name: Avena sativa
- Family: Poceae
- Other Common Names: Oat, oatgrass, cat grass, pet grass
- Parts Used: Unripe grain in milky stage
- Energetics: Moist
- Thermal Properties: Cooling
- Actions: Anti-depressant, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, nervine (relaxing), nutritive, tonic, trophorestorative
- Taste: Sweet
- Plant Uses: Nervous system exhaustion, strengthen sexual potency/desire, restorative and strengthening to the whole body, mood lifter, clearer cognition, memory enhancer, stress reducer
- Plant Preparations: Tincture, herbal bath, infusion
- Toxicities/Warnings: Generally very safe. Possible cross-contamination issues for those with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
What Are Milky Oats?
First of all, yes, milky oats (also commonly known as milky oat tops or green oats) are the exact same species that you eat as oatmeal. As the Hippocrates quote goes, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”
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But to be fair, green oats do have one important distinction from the oats you enjoy at breakfast—time of harvest. Milky oats, or green oats, are harvested before maturity, at a crucial stage where the young grainhead is swelling with fluids and full of energy.
At this stage, all of its juicy energy is still flowing and highly active. So, while they aren’t yet at their prime in terms of food, they are at their absolute peak of medicinal potency.
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The oat plant, Avena sativa, has lived alongside humans for quite a while. It’s a member of the grass family (Poaceae). It likely came from out of Northern Europe or the Near East, or possibly the Fertile Crescent.
It’s been used as a food source for humans and animals for as long as we’ve shared space together. The genus name “Avena” even means nourishment. “Sativa” means cultivated, denoting its domestication from wild oats, possibly Avena fatua.
(“Fatua,” by the way, means “foolish” or “not good,” and may refer to the tendency of wild oats to appear in the same field as cultivated oats. While it may be irritating to farmers, these “foolish” oats are more-or-less interchangeable for purposes of food and medicine.)
Besides food, oats have been used in a number of ways.
- They can be planted to prevent erosion of depleted soil.
- The hulls have been used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses.
- They’ve also been used symbolically as a representation of sexual health and vitality, as in “sowing your wild oats,” or “feeling your oats.”
These uses of oats, aside from erosion control, are all linked to its medicinal properties. Most people are quite surprised to learn that oats are a medicinal plant. Yet, they have been used medicinally since at least the Middle Ages, and probably long before that.
9 Benefits of Milky Oats
- Overhaul Your Nervous System: Our bodies are designed for brief periods of high stress. But in our modern world, many of us spend all day marinating in it. This level of overuse can cause a lot of wear and tear on the system. Milky oats can help to repair damaged nerves, reduce pain, replenish nutrient reserves, and support correct nervous system function. Most of the benefits below are extensions of this affinity for the nervous system.
- Kick Stress to the Curb: Milky oats’ main claim to fame is its ability to sooth frazzled nerves and calm down your stress response. If you feel like the world has chewed you up, spit you out, and stepped on you, it’s probably time for some milky oats.
- Sow Your Wild Oats: Milky oats has a reputation as something of a natural love potion. Whether your struggle is mental or physical, these oats can help you untidy the bedroom … and the kitchen … and maybe even the laundry room. 😉
- Reboot Your Adrenals: Are you burnt out? Can’t get going without caffeine? Can’t keep going without sugar and even more caffeine? You’ve probably been going full throttle with nothing in the gas tank. Milky oats can help reset your system and normalize your energy levels.
- No More Insomnia: When your nervous system is frazzled and your resources are depleted, the on/off switches in your body can malfunction. Reset your system and take back control.
- Think Straight: Growing older does not mean the inevitable march toward mental decline. Milky oats has been shown to help improve working memory and cognition. Use milky oats as a part of your mental health plant. (It works for you young folks, too.)
- Skin Soother and Healer: Milky oats are great for soothing pain and irritation in the skin, and for helping it heal.
- Smile: Everybody has bad days. But there’s no reason to have any more than necessary. Milky oats has a mood-boosting effect that can help relieve anxiety. It even has anti-depression effects.
- Refill Your Resources: It’s easy to run low on nutrients without realizing it. Milky oats are a great plant for refilling your nutrient stores so you can function at your best.
Medicinal Properties of Green Oats
Most of milky oats’ properties can be traced back to its effects on the nervous system. It works both nutritionally and phytochemically to repair and restore damaged systems to their normal function, and to refill depleted nutrient reserves. This has a profound effect on the function of the nervous system.
On the physical level, a nourished immune system has the resources necessary to repair damaged nerves and facilitate correct function. This in itself can account for many of milky oats’ medicinal effects.
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However, green oats also has a more direct, phytochemical effect on the nervous system. Depending on the modality you choose, you may be benefiting one or both of these approaches.
Lessened Pain Response
One effect of soothing and restoring the nervous system is that pain responses can become lessened. The body is taken out of its fight-or-flight mode and responds less urgently to pain in general. Milky oats are especially useful in cases of neuralgia.
Improved Working Memory
Milky oats extracts have been shown to significantly improve working memory, and to modulate our physiological response to stressors, although the exact phytochemicals responsible are not yet known. The effects may be independant, or they may be linked. Reduced stress helps us think clearly. Thinking clearly about a situation can help to reduce stress. In either case, milky oats has a long history of helping people to soothe those frazzled nerves and of bringing us to a better place, emotionally.
The mood-related effects of milky oats are also likely to be partly related to stress reduction. We all feel better when a stressor is lifted from our shoulders. However, this mood-lifting effect is unlikely to be entirely based upon reduced stressed. Milky oats has antidepressant properties, implying that it directly affects the mood.
Soothed Adrenal Glands
Milky oats’ effect on adrenal glands is another interesting area. Many of us lead very hurried, stressful lives. Our adrenal glands were designed for short bursts of intense activity with relatively long periods of recovery in between.
By living in near-constant low-to-moderate stress, we never give them a chance to rest, replenish, and repair. This can lead to a feeling of being burned out—a lack of energy or motivation.
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Milky oats help the adrenal glands both through nourishment and by moderating our body’s response to stressors. This helps them rejuvenate, returning to full strength, and helps them keep from overreacting to stimuli.
One strange phenomenon that sometimes accompanies adrenal fatigue, or stress in general, is insomnia. Even though the body and mind may be exhausted, our gas pedal is stuck to the floor. We cannot disengage and put ourselves into park, so to speak. And lack of sleep is only going to make things worse.
It’s a bad feedback loop to be caught in. Thankfully, milky oats are often helpful at getting that gas pedal unstuck, both through stress modulation and by relaxing the adrenals.
Enhanced Physical Intimacy
And what of milky oats’ reputation as a love potion? The effect is real, but is it due to a direct physiological effect within the body? Or is it an indirect effect of lower stress levels and greater overall health? It’s probably some of both. Whatever the ultimate cause, milky oats can help to stimulate desire and ability. Its nervous system effects may also have the side-effect of enhancing the pleasure of physical intimacy.
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While we tend to focus on milky oats’ affinity for the nervous system, its nutritive qualities also have an overall building and supporting effect on the body. Its high mineral content can help to strengthen bones, hair, teeth, and nails.
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Lastly, milky oats are often used topically . Their soothing and pain-reducing properties carry over quite well to the skin, typically being used for rashes, inflammation, and other skin issues. Once again, they are quite helpful for neuralgia, especially when both internal and external applications are used.
How Is Milky Oats Different From Oatstraw?
Milky oats’ effects strongly overlap with oatstraw. Being from the same plant, this is not unexpected. However, they each go about their business in different ways.
Oatstraw focuses more on a nutrition-based strategy, especially in building up your body’s supply of minerals. Milky oats focus more on the phytophemical side of the equation, directly affecting the nervous and endocrine systems.
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Green oats’ effects show up much faster, but oatstraw’s effects will linger for a long time after you stop taking them. In reality, both parts of the plant do both things. They each just specialize in one area.
Nutritional Properties of Milky Oat Tops
Even in their unripened state, milky oats possess excellent nutritional qualities. They are high in magnesium, chromium, silicon, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and selenium. They have lesser, but still significant, amounts of potassium; protein; vitamins A, C, E, and K; and vitamin B complex.
When taking this plant for its nutritive properties, a strong infusion would be most effective. While tinctures are very effective for typical medicinal purposes, their small dosage makes them inefficient nutrition-delivery systems.
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Technically, an herbal bath will impart some of the oats’ nutrition to you. Our skin can absorb several types of nutrients. But an herbal bath won’t be as efficient for nutrient absorption as simply eating the herb. (Then again, is that really the main purpose of an herbal bath?)
How to Prepare and Use Milky Oats
Milky Oats Tincture
Tincturing is one of the most popular and effective ways of using milky oats. A tincture is easy to make; it’s easy to store and transport; and it has a very long shelf life. Tinctures are also highly concentrated, meaning they are effective at smaller doses.
How to Make Milky Oats Tincture
The easiest way to make a milky oats tincture is to make a folk tincture:
- Place your milky oats in a jar. If you would like a more predictable and uniform tincture, you can use a ratio of 1:2 for fresh milky oats or 1:5 for dried. The ratio represents herb weight (grams) to alcohol volume (milliliters). This level of precision is not necessary, but it can be helpful if you desire a more predictable product. Just remember that the quality of your herbs will also affect the quality of your final product, even if your rations remain the same.
- Pour alcohol into the jar until the oats are covered by an inch or two. If you are using dried milky oats, I recommend using something with around 50% to 65% alcohol content. This will have enough alcohol and water to extract the full spectrum of medicinal constituents and minerals from the oats. It will also have enough alcohol to prevent spoilage. Use a higher alcohol content if you want to focus specifically on the anti-depressant and other mood-related effects of the oats. If you are using fresh milky oats, I recommend using a 95% alcohol product. This is because the oats still contain a lot of water which will dilute the final ratio. Fresh herbs are more potent, but dried herbs are much easier to obtain and still very effective.
- For most tinctures, this is where we would let it sit and soak. But for milky oats, I like to add one more step. Pour your alcohol and oats into a blender and pulse them for a few seconds. This will break up the oats into smaller pieces, encouraging them to release their medicinal components faster and more fully.
- Now you can pour them back into the glass jar seal them up.
- Label the jar and place it in a cool, dark location. Come back to shake up the jar each day for 4 weeks. After this, you can strain out the herbs and rebottle the liquid. Because we gave this tincture a jumpstart in the blender, we could probably strain it out earlier, but 4 weeks is a generally accepted time frame.
- If you want to let the herbs sit in the alcohol longer, that’s fine too.
- You can also add other herbs to your tincture. For example, milky oats have a complementary effect when paired with Siberian ginseng.
How much milky oats tincture should you use? This will be highly dependent on your own unique biology and needs.
Many people find 1-5 ml (about 10-100 drops) taken 1-3 times daily to be an effective amount. A smaller amount taken more often is generally more effective than a larger amount taken at long intervals.
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Place the tincture under your tongue for fastest absorption. Or, add it to a drink to mask the alcohol taste. Both methods are highly effective.
Properly stored, a tincture will remain potent for many years. The only downside of a tincture is that their smaller dosing makes them fairly inefficient at nourishing the body. If your main concern is nutrition, I recommend making an infusion—or use them in combination.
Milky Oats Infusion
An infusion (herbal tea) is a great way to balance the nutritional and medicinal aspects of an herb. This is especially true when you let the herbs infuse for several hours, creating what’s generally known as a nourishing herbal infusion. (You can always warm your tea back up, if you prefer it hot.)
Try mixing oatstraw with milky oats for a deeply nourishing infusion. Oatstraw is the dried stem of the oat plant. It has a similar effect, but focuses much more heavily on the nutritional side of things.
How to Make a Milky Oats Infusion
- Place around 1 ounce of dried herbs into a quart or liter canning jar. The exact ratio of milky oats to oatstraw is up to you, but I prefer to let oatstraw be the main player. It can do the nutritional heavy lifting. The same amount of milky oats won’t be required to bring their medicinal properties to the table. But you won’t harm yourself either way. Feel free to experiment and follow where the herbs lead you.
- After placing the herbs in the jar, pour boiling water over them to fill the jar. Then cap the jar tightly and give it a good shake.
- Let it sit for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. Once it has fully infused, strain out the spent plant materials and toss them in the compost.
- It’s best to drink the whole thing in a day. Then make a new one that night for the following day. If you aren’t going to drink it all in one day, refrigerate it, and it will remain potent for about three days.
The nutritive effects of herbs used in nourishing infusions are not as fast-acting or glamorous as tinctures or elixirs (or some of the other fun concoctions we can make), but their effects really add up when used consistently. You will be surprised!
And remember, it’s not cheating to mix flavors. You can mix your oatstraw/milky oats infusion with other herbal teas, sweet tea, juices, or anything else that creates an enjoyable flavor. Experiment and explore!
Try adding a few milky oats whenever you make a cup of tea. This is a good way to feed your nervous system each time you enjoy a cup of tea.
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Other Uses for Infusions
A milky oats infusion is great for skin issues! Soak a cloth and use it to gently wash rashes, varicose veins, or areas with nerve pain. You can drape the cloth over an area and let the infusion soak into your skin. Continue as long as desired, replacing the cloth as needed.
Infusions can also be used as a sitz bath for hemorrhoids.
Herbal Baths With Green Oats
Baths are naturally de-stressing. Magnify that effect by turning your bath into an herbal experience. Place milky oats into a cloth sack and tie it over the bath’s spout, so that the water flows into the sack and over the herbs.
Run straight hot water through the tap until the bath is nearly ready. Then add cooler water as needed to make the bath comfortable.
This is most effective if the milky oats are first crushed or placed in a blender and pulsed for a couple of seconds to release their medicinal compounds. You can also add other herbs like lavender or chamomile to the mix. Milky oats work especially well with oatstraw—two different parts from the same plant.
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Milky oat baths are excellent for skin conditions and neuralgia. They work even better when supplemented with milky oat infusions or tinctures. For chronic conditions, enjoy a bath with milky oats at least twice a week. For acute conditions, take herbal baths as often as needed.
For inflamed or itchy skin, tepid baths are more effective. Run them hot to maximize the infusion strength. Then, let them cool to skin temperature. I know a hot bath can feel really good on bug bites and rashes, but the heat pulls blood to the surface, increasing inflammation and irritation in the long run.
Remember those spent herbs from the infusion instruction? Instead of composting them right away, you can recycle them into your herbal bath. They will have lost most of their potency, but you never really extract 100% of the herb’s medicine. Using them for an herbal bath with give you one more shot at accessing their effects without spending a dime. But make sure to use those spent herbs right away. They will not store well waiting for bath time.
Precautions and Contraindications
Milky oats are gentle and well-tolerated by almost everyone. They are considered to be very safe both internally and externally, and have no known side effects or drug interactions.
However, they are often grown in the same fields and processed on the same machinery as wheat. This makes cross-contamination a risk for people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Certified gluten-free oats are grown and processed separately from wheat, making them safe for people with gluten intolerance.
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If you have Celiac disease, the safety of oats may be contentious. Oats have a protein called avenin, which is similar to the offending wheat protein, gliadin. Some people with Celiac disease will be sensitive to avenin, while others won’t.
People can be allergic to wheat pollen, though the pollen will have long disappeared by the time the oats enter the milky stage.
How to Identify Milky Oat Tops
Oats are annuals in the grass family. The leaves are blade-like with parallel veins. They produce erect, hollow stems with nodes.
These stems branch near the top, producing small, spiked seed heads. These seed heads tend to hang and sway, especially as they grow and get heavier. Seed heads grow in pairs and may remind you of a bird’s beak.
Immature seed heads will produce a milky substance when crushed. This stage is short-lived and cannot be used for identification at other times.
Cultivated oats grow to between 1-4 feet tall and have a light green coloration.
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Other members of the grass family will share characteristics with oats, especially before it produces grains. To differentiate oats from other grasses, note the shape of the grain head and how it nods over. Wild oats (Avena fatua) and hybrids of wild and cultivated oats are safe to eat or use medicinally.
Despite the name, wood oats and sea oats are not true oats. However, they are edible, so you don’t have to worry about poisoning if you misidentify them.
If you choose to harvest wild plants, you should always be positive of their identification. Use multiple trusted sources to verify a plant’s identity. Never harvest oats that appear to be unhealthy or that have any mold or fungal spots.
Where It Grows and Where to Find It
While native to Northern Europe, our modern oats have now been spread across the Earth. Commercial crops are typically grown on plains, but home and community gardens can successfully grow oats outside of plains regions.
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Modern oats can also be found in uncultivated spaces, having escaped farms and gardens. Escaped oats are often found growing alongside their wild cousins in fields, roadsides, and disturbed soils.
Oats prefer full sun and dry, slightly acidic soil.
How and When to Harvest
Oats intended for medicinal uses should be harvested during the milky stage. This is a weeklong period where the seed heads will exude a milky substance when squeezed. This stage occurs after the seed heads become plump, but before they harden.
When the seed heads start to swell, begin checking them for this fluid. Seed heads that dry will still have their nutritional properties, but will lack the full medicinal value of milky oats.
Harvesting is fast and easy. Simply grasp the stalk between your finger and thumb and slide your hand up. The seed heads will pop off into your hand, and you can deposit them into a container.
What Do You Think?
Do you have any milky oats stories or experiences to share? Let us know in the comments.
Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.
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