Annual grass growing to 3 ft (1 m). Has straight hollow stems, blade-like leaves, and small spikes holding seeds (grain).
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to northern Europe, oats are now grown in temperate regions worldwide as a cereal crop. They are harvested in late summer.
Seeds, straw (dried stems).
Oats contain saponins, alkaloids, sterols, flavonoids, silicic acid, starch, proteins (including gluten), vitamins (especially B vitamins), and minerals (especially calcium).
History & Folklore
Formerly, oat straw was used to fill mattresses, proving beneficial to those suffering from rheumatism. In The English Physitian (1652) Nicholas Culpeper states that “a poultice made of meal of oats and some oil of bay helpeth the itch and the leprosy.” Earlier, in 1597, John Gerard was less enthusiastic: “Oatmeal is good to make a fair and well-colored maid to look like a cake of tallow.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Oats are best known as a nutritious cereal, but they benefit health in many other ways. Oat bran lowers cholesterol, and an oat-based diet may improve stamina (see Research). Oats, and oat straw in particular, are tonic when taken medicinally. Oat straw is prescribed by medical herbalists to treat general debility and a wide variety of nervous conditions.
The grains and straw are mildly antidepressant, gently raising energy levels and supporting an overstressed nervous system. Oats are used to treat depression and nervous debility, and insomnia in those suffering from nervous exhaustion. Oats are one of the principal herbal aids to convalescence after a long illness. Externally, the grain is emollient and cleansing, and a decoction strained into a bath can help soothe itchiness and eczema.
In research undertaken in Australia, athletes who were placed on an oatbased diet for 3 weeks showed a 4% increase in stamina. Oats are thought to help maintain muscle function during training and exercise.