It’s three o’clock. I’ve had enough. They’ve had enough. They are fighting, the house is messy, I am tired. So for just a moment, I step out into my tiny oasis, lay on my back on the hot red bricks that cover the patio and close my eyes. I hear her swoosh and the breeze blows across my face. I smell strawberries and lemonade. The sound of bees sets a quiet humm of a beat while a hummingbird zeros quickly in on my red lips, then rushes away. The rustle of her tall stalks on the wind offer a welcoming soundtrack to the heat of summer. I see my girls running barefoot through grassy fields dancing their fingers along her soft blades and laughing with joy. I whisper a song of gratitude and take a deep breath in. Then, exhale as I rise to greet her, jar in hand and begin to fill it with her nourishment. This is the afternoon conversation I have enjoyed these last few weeks. Just when the heat of my day begins to ware, I greet Avena Sativa – oats. She is flourishing in my garden now, and at precisely the right time.
Long before your oatmeal makes it to the shelf, whether your variety is rolled, or stone ground, herb lovers and wildcrafters are eying those grassy stalks of grain. Avena Sativa, the cultivated version of wild oats (avena fatua), is a common herbal nervine. Safe in every sense that I’ve ever read (but please don’t take my word for it), it is a gentle pleasing grassy addition to any daily blend. I first discovered oat tops in a weed tea I purchased from an online co-op. But didn’t think much of it then. Drew decided to plant it as a soil fixer in our garden this year and I am overjoyed to know this unassuming grassy ally. A nervine is generally an herb that works with calming the nervous system for things like stress and anxiety. Avena works particularly well with stress associated with overwhelm, loss, and heavyheartedness. But before you rush out and buy a pound to cure your depression, like most of our allies, Avena prefers to be enjoyed daily over time. In this way she is what they call a tonic herb. She releases her magic gently and slowly with the pace of summer and begins to change the very nature of your cells and your chemistry.
A good portion of the medicine is said to be found in her green milky tops. (When the oats have turned brown, they are harvested for the grain you are familiar with.) These green tops are what you will see more often in tea (dried) and certainly in tincture form (fresh). If you are lucky enough to encounter Avena in the wild, you will know she is ready when you pinch one of her tops between your fingers and it pops squirting out a white milk-colored substance. They are only milky for a short time, so she requests that you revisit her again and again and get to know her well, waiting for just the right moment. I love this about the plant as well. So many modes of healing. She offers relief for the anxiety and overwhelm that often fills my mothering days. Thus, my afternoon retreat mentioned above. Every few days I am able to collect about an ounce of tops and an ounce of straw. I steep each in a quart jar overnight for a rich nourishing infusion. I have tinctured some of her tops and look forward to trying this, but for now, I enjoy them as a strong drink. New Mexico medicinewoman Kiva Rose has this to say about Avena:
Avena is most indicated when there is a combination of anxiety and restlessness (often accompanied by insomnia) with some level of depression, mental fatigue and inability to focus. It’s great for that “tired but wired” feeling so many of experience after long periods of overwork (or child rearing), especially if there is a history of lack of adequate sleep. It’s also an excellent tonic for those whose nervous systems are worn down or fried from substance abuse of any kind. Additionally, I have seen it significantly reduce the occurrence of chronic tension headaches brought on by anxiety, overwork, menstrual cycle and/or exhaustion.
When you harvest the tops, you can also take the grassy portion, called oatstraw. This part of the plant is where you will also find many minerals and vitamins that are excellent for women and children, or anyone really needing help in a restorative way. A natural multi-vitamin. And many of these minerals are only extracted in water, as opposed to the tincture, as you would take them in a tea or infusion. Calcium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C are known to me. As calcium is vital for children, I always include it in my teas for the girls. My favorite high-C tea for kiddos uses a base of oatstraw.
Using herbs is really a lifestyle. Not a this for that kinda treatment regimen, though it does wonders in some instances in this way, the magic is felt when it runs through your veins daily. Not unlike your diet. Food as medicine, right? Adding avena to your list of nourishing drinkables is a wonderful way to incorporate herbal medicine into your life in an easy way. The Avena in my garden is producing like crazy right now. If you are able to gather some yourself or get it from an herb shop, I encourage you to stock up and start drinking. Next time you feel frayed or tired try making a strong infusion and enjoy it all day long for several days. If you do try them, I’d love to hear your thoughts.Trusted herbalist Kiva Rose has written extensively on this, and if you are at all interested in Avena, I encourage you to read the following articles to learn more. The Restorative Medicine of Avena The Medicine of Milky Oats