Botanical name: Avena sativa L.
Botanical Family: Poaceae
Common name: oats
Synonyms: green oats, oatstraw, sumidad de avena (Spanish)
The Plant: Oats are both the source of nutritious oatmeal and a skin-soothing herb. The spikelets or tops are the part of the oats that are used as an herb.
An annual cereal grass, today's oats straw was domesticated from the natural hybridization of several of its wild cousins. A three-foot tall, grass-like plant, oats straw is planted in the early spring or winter, and the grain is ready for harvest in mid-summer.
Oats straw is harvested while the tender young fruits (oats seeds) are in the milky stage, which means they exude a white, milky latex when squeezed. This stage only lasts for about a week before the latex begins to turn to starch. When this happens, it's best to wait for the oats to mature for use as a grain, as its herb value is lost.
Constituents of Note: Silicic acid is present at around 2% in the herb. Also present are flavones, triterpenoid saponins and carotenoids.
Quality: As oats ripen, the stalks turn yellow. Harvesting the tops while they're still green and drying to maintain the green color insures the herb is not, literally, the "straw" leftover after the grain is harvested. (Even if it no longer has any value as an herb, it still makes a great mulch).
Oats straw herb should be a pale green color, lacking yellow or brown pieces. It has a faint, fresh, green aroma and an herbaceous flavor free of any musty notes. Green seeds should be present in the oats straw herb.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.20) as a spice, natural flavoring and seasoning, and Dietary Supplement
Did you know? Oats was not an intentionally cultivated grain. This important grain was a happy accident, being considered a weed among other grains crops, such as wheat and barley. Its wide tolerance of different climates allowed its expansion, and eventual appreciation, as it continued to thrive through stretches of poor growing conditions while other crops struggled.
Because of its high protein content, the plant has been cultivated for over 2,000 years.
Directions: To add to the bath, place two cups of oats straw in a muslin cloth and add to the bath water, swishing it around. Or make a strong oats straw tea and add the tea water to the bath. To enhance your oats straw bath experience, tie 1/2 cup of oatmeal in a soft cloth and use it to cleanse the skin after a nice soak in the bath.
To make a tea, use one to two teaspoons of oats straw to one cup of boiling water and let steep for ten minutes before straining. To enhance the tonifying and soothing benefits of the tea, combine with lemon balm, nettles, skullcap, chamomile or passion flower.
Suggested Uses: Oats straw is soothing to dry, flaky, damaged, and itchy skin. It's an ingredient in skin creams and lotions, baby products, and bath products.
Other oats straw benefits include its use as a relaxing tea and nerve tonic. For those who feel over-worked, over-stressed, depleted and burned-out, oat straw is the tea of choice. It's gently restorative to mind and body when taken for a period of time.
Caution/Safety: The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies oats straw as:
Class 1: herbs which can be safely consumed when used appropriately
Per the German Commission E Monograph** for oats straw, there are no known contraindications, side effects or drug interactions.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
**Mark Blumenthal, ed., The Complete German Commission E Monographs, (Austin TX: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998
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