Mid summer here in Maine is all about harvesting grasses. Hot, dry July weather means that farmers are out mowing their fields, large round bales are lining up all along the roadsides and even here at the Blessed Maine Herb Farm, with sickles in hand, grasses have moved to the center of our attention.
The fossil record tells us that the plants in the Poaceae family, called grasses, evolved around 65 million years ago. There are approximately 600 genera and between 9,000-10,000 species in this family, which is one of the oldest of the plant families.
Plant communities dominated by Poaceae are called grasslands and, depending on their location, pampas, plains, steppes, or prairie. It is estimated that grasslands comprise between 20 – 30% of the vegetation cover of the earth.
Recently scientists working in the flooded ruins of an ancient fishing camp in Israel, known as Ohalo II, found evidence that the residents were collecting wild grain, pounding it and possibly baking bread at least 10,000 years before the advent of cultivated crops.
Traces of grains were detected in the seams of a grinding stone unearthed at this settlement on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee that thrived 22,000 years ago. This discovery is the oldest evidence found of humans processing cereal grains. Besides the milled grain there was also considerable evidence of charred or parched grains at the site, especially smaller seeds, suggesting that the ancient residents had gathered cereal to make gruel.
Clearly grasses in the Poaceae family have provided humans (and many animals) with an essential part of their diet since prehistoric times when Paleolithic peoples gathered wild seeds and crushed them to make nourishing gruels and porridge. All grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, offer a wealth of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytosterols and are naturally low in fat.
Each whole kernel of grain is a storehouse of nutrients essential to the human diet.
One of the most outstanding members of this plant family is Avena sativa, common oats or oatstraw. Ancient legend says that Gaia herself was weaned on the milk of this flowering plant. Oats are the seeds, milky oat tops refer to the flowering herb, and oat plants harvested in the flowering milky stage and then dried are known as oatstraw.
Oatstraw refers to both the flowering milky tops and the stem of the plant combined, (as in whole plant medicine) and is used to make wonderfully nourishing and delicious herbal infusions. Oatstraw infusions are a great way to get the benefits of oats. Drinking 2-4 cups daily imparts all the benefits of eating oats and is especially hormonal balancing, grounding and vitality building.
All the wild-hearted among us, pregnant women, nursing mothers, babies and growing children, women with busy lives and tight schedules, overworked and stressed-out-men, all benefit from integrating oats and oatstraw into their daily diets.
Sweet and warming, calming and restorative oats in the diet assure strong nerves, steady mind, good coordination and balance, excellent reproductive functioning, healthy sex drive, strong heart and circulatory system, strong bones, balanced hormones, low cholesterol and normal blood pressure.
Oats are highly nourishing, revitalizing and rejuvenating. Offering one of the highest contents of magnesium of any plant, oats also contain abundant chromium, sodium, silicon, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and selenium. Oats are an excellent source of vitamin B complex, including folic acid, plus vitamins E, K, A and C, potassium and protein. Daily consumption of 2-4 cups of oatstraw infusion, builds strength, balance and vitality.
Plenty of magnesium in the diet is implicated in a lessening of the swelling and pain of osteoarthritis and other painful joint disorders. In addition, magnesium assures the best absorption of the abundant calcium in oats and helps relax the muscles and keep the bones strong. Magnesium is necessary for the electrical body to function optimally, for the heart to beat regularly, and for that elusive quality known as magnetism. B complex vitamins are critically important for good mental function and emotional stability.
Oatstraw is an energizer, but it does this cumulatively, building energy and vitality slowly and consistently by deeply nourishing the entire body. It alleviates both physical and nervous fatigue, Taken before bed, oatstraw infusion supports deep refreshing sleep.
Referred to as a trophorestorative, all parts of this common plant nourish and tone the brain and nervous system and are excellent allies when dealing with stress and anxiety as well as depression.
Oatstraw can be combined with other nervines such as hawthorn, motherwort, passionflower, chamomile, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, skullcap, rosemary or lavender when treating anxiety. Since nervines compliment the use of adaptogens, any of these herbs in combination with oatstraw can be safely combined with an adaptogen such as reishi mushrooms, American ginseng, licorice or schizandra when dealing with the effects of severe, long term stress. Adaptogens can be important allies here, as they assist the body in regulating the use of cortisol which allows it to maintain a healthy, non-destructive stress response, countering the adverse effects that stress has on the body.
When treating depression, oatstraw can be combined with nervines that offer specific antidepressant qualities. These include lemon balm, St. John’s wort, roses, lavender and rosemary. Nootropics (herbs that enhance cerebral function) can also be helpful when treating depression; some of my favorites include ginkgo, lavender and rosemary. An adaptogen such as rhodiola, holy basil or schizandra can be added to the formula for additional support.
Oats’ benefits extend quite naturally to children. They taste delicious, are calming, and promote healthy growth of bones and muscles. A bowl of oat cereal or a cup of oatstraw infusion is a great way for kids to start or end the day. (According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, grains such as oats, rye and wheat, should not be consumed unless they have first been either soaked – for at least several hours or overnight – or fermented.)
I suggest daily infusions of oatstraw and/or a bowl of oatmeal for any child who is easily distracted and needs help with concentration, focus, and the ability to settle down and pay attention. The addition of some rose hips or passionflower will be a nourishing, safe and simple, yet effective treatment for children with attention deficit “disorder.”
Phytosterol rich oats are well known as a love potion, probably due to their ability to nourish and strengthen the endocrine system and regulate hormones. Regular use of oats or oatstraw infusion helps prevent prostate problems and “erectile dysfunction.” Both help stabilize blood sugar levels, and have been used to nourish people with thyroid and estrogen deficiencies, and degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Oats and oatstraw are fabulous for supporting anyone with general debility or deficiency.
There is an old saying having to do with “feeling your oats,” meaning feeling frisky and full of life, vitality and sexual energy. That’s oats.
Oats offer exceptional benefits to the skin. I place dried oats into a small muslin cloth, wet it in a warm shower and rub over my body to slough away dead skin and leave my skin glowing. Soaking in a relaxing bath with oats will also help soothe skin irritation and ease dry, itchy skin conditions. Add a few roses or some lavender for a real treat.
When dealing with varicose veins, drink at least 2 cups of oatstraw daily and use the infusion as a wash, or apply the warmed, moistened herb you’ve strained out, as a poultice. Be sure to wash with an upward motion, to follow the direction of blood flow to the heart. Drink the same amount of infusion when trying to alleviate the pain and discomfort of hemorrhoids and use the warm oatstraw infusion as a comforting sitz bath.
In Scandinavian countries, a bundle of oats is hung by the door for prosperity. Old wives suggest keeping a few oats in a magical bag for a prosperous life full of deep satisfaction. Oat flower essence brings a feeling of stability during times of uncertainty and dissatisfaction.
Oats are very easy to grow in ordinary garden soil. Sowing and raking oats into the ground is one of our annual spring rituals on the Blessed Maine Herb Farm; we make it a family affair. I have always relished working up that first patch of soil, the rhythm of throwing seeds from bucket to earth, the sway of our bodies, the sparks of life force flowing from our hands, and the kids (now grown) playing alongside the field.
In about a week the oat seeds have sprouted, begin growing green and thick and soon become tall and graceful. In no time at all it seems, we hear the gentle rattle of oat flowers in the breeze as they sing us to the harvest.
Oats are true magic and I’m certain you’ll want to plant some. We use certified organic oat seeds, the same that we used to feed our ponies, and sow them very thick so there’s no room for weeds. Oats like to grow this way. If you’ve no room outside to grow oats, just a handful of seed thrown into a pot makes a magical, nourishing, soothing container garden for a city dweller. No matter where you live, do open your wild heart to gentle, powerful, restorative oats.
We gather our oats while the seeds are in the milky stage. At some point between the time the flowers emerge and the seeds harden, you squeeze a plump bud and out will ooze a thick, sweet, white sap that looks and tastes a bit like mothers’ milk. This is the optimum time for harvest.
We cut our oat stalks as far down as they are green, then lay them out on screens, hang them in bunches, or make them into sheaves like the old-timers did. We tincture freshly cut oats immediately in alcohol or vinegar, sometimes right out in the field.
Visit Blessed Maine Herb Farm for certified organic dried bulk oatstraw or tincture. Oatstraw is in several of our herb tea blends and in several of our formulas as well, notably in our Nerve Tonic and in our Stress Free Adaptogen Blend
Many Good Blessings to you!