Herb: Oats

Latin name: Avena sativa

Family: Gramineae (Grass Family)

Medicinal use of Oats:

Whilst used mainly as a food, oat grain does also have medicinal properties. In particular oats are a nutritious food that gently restores vigour after debilitating illnesses, helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood and also increases stamina. The seed is a mealy nutritive herb that is antispasmodic, cardiac, diuretic, emollient, nervine and stimulant. The seed contains the antitumor compound b-sitosterol and has been used as a folk remedy for tumours. A gruel made from the ground seed is used as a mild nutritious aliment in inflammatory cases, fevers and after parturition. It should be avoided in cases of dyspepsia accompanied with acidity of the stomach. A tincture of the ground seed in alcohol is useful as a nervine and uterine tonic. A decoction strained into a bath will help to soothe itchiness and eczema. A poultice made from the ground seeds is used in the treatment of eczema and dry skin. When consumed regularly, oat germ reduces blood cholesterol levels. Oat straw and the grain are prescribed to treat general debility and a wide range of nervous conditions. They are of particular value in helping a person to cope with the exhaustion that results from multiple sclerosis, chronic neurological pain and insomnia. Oats are thought to stimulate sufficient nervous energy to help relieve insomnia. An alcoholic extraction of oats has been reported to be a deterrent for smoking, though reports that oat extract helped correct the tobacco habit have been disproven. A tincture of the plant has been used as a nerve stimulant and to treat opium addiction. In an article riddled with errors, the Globe (February 28, 1984) reports that oat straw, usually taken as a tea, is a sexual nerve tonic.

Description of the plant:


90 cm
(2 feet)

to July

Habitat of the herb:

Dry wasteland, cultivated ground and meadows, especially on heavier soils.

Edible parts of Oats:

Seed - cooked. The seed ripens in the latter half of summer and, when harvested and dried, can store for several years. It has a floury texture and a mild, somewhat creamy flavour. It can be used as a staple food crop in either savoury or sweet dishes. Used as a cereal, it is probably best known as the breakfast cereal porridge but it can also be used in many other ways. The seed can be sprouted and used in salads, the grain can also be ground into a flour and used in making biscuits, sourdough etc. It is fairly low in gluten, and so is not really suitable for making bread. The seed is an especially good food for convalescents and people with stomach problems. Oat flour produced in the dry-milling operation currently is used as an antioxidant in food products. Oat flour inhibits rancidity and increases the length of shelf-stability of fatty foods such as vegetable oils. Whilst cultivated oats average about 17% protein, scientists screening thousands of samples of cultivated and wild species found that the wild species averaged 27% with some forms ranging up to 37%. Oats are also one of the cereals used as a basic ingredient for making whisky. Oats are harvested when grain is in the hard dough stage and straw is slightly green (when the moisture content of the grain is 14% or less). If too ripe, shattering causes seed loss. Crop is usually cut with binder and left in the field until dry and then threshed. In mechanized societies, oats are combined directly from standing grain. For this type of harvesting, crop must be fully ripe, usually when the straw has lost greenness and glumes have become white. Crop may be combined from windrow, or cut with a header harvester when the crop is dead ripe. Seeds are threshed and cleaned by winnowing, and artificially dried to below 14% moisture for storage. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute. An edible oil is obtained from the seed, it is used in the manufacture of breakfast cereals.

Other uses of the herb:

The straw has a wide range of uses such as for bio-mass, fibre, mulch, paper-making, building board and thatching. It has also been used as a stuffing material for mattresses and these are said to be of great benefit for sufferers from rheumatism. Some caution is advised in its use as a mulch since oat straw can infest strawberries with stem and bulb eelworm. Oat hulls are basic in production of furfural, a chemical intermediate in the production of many industrial products such as nylon, lubricating oils, butadiene, phenolic resin glues, and rubber tread compositions. Oats hulls supply about 22% of the required furfural raw materials. Rice hulls, corn cobs, bagasse, and beech woods make up much of the remainder. Oats hulls are also used in the manufacture of construction boards, cellulose pulp and as a filter in breweries. A handful of the grains, thrown into the bath water, will help to keep the skin soft because of their emollient action. An extract of oat straw prevents feeding by the striped cucumber beetle.

Propagation of Oats:

Seed - sow in situ in early spring or in the autumn. Only just cover the seed. Germination should take place within 2 weeks.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry wasteland, cultivated ground and meadows, especially on heavier soils.

Known hazards of Avena sativa:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.