Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Author: Lee Reicheneder
Oat straw, also known as Avena Sativa has been cultivated and used as early as 2,000 BC and has a very long history nourishing people nutritionally and as a herbal medicine. In fact, the name Avena means ‘nourishment’ which is the simplest way to describe the wonder of this herb. It is believed that the oat plant has been used to nourish people for 3,000 years and possibly longer. It is believed to have first been discovered in the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent covered a vast area spanning from Israel to Europe and included Weston Iran. In Ayurveda this amazing plant is often referred to as the ‘herb of longevity’ with its perceived ability to bring integrity to the nervous system, provide emotional flexibility and ‘sexual flow’ something that has been touted for many years with various sayings related to this now ingrained into our culture.
The oat plant is a light green annual grass which has straight, hollow stems that produce spiked seed heads that hold grains (oats), and blade like leaves. The stalks of the plant can grow between 30-122cm tall. The plant is now able to be found in most parts of the world and they can go wild turning into a ‘weed’ very easily. The grow in sunny, dry weather and often prefer acidic soil. The flowers of these plants have both female and male organs which are pollinated with help from wind provided by mother nature. Furthermore, through out history this plant has been used to control soil erosion on many depleted landscapes. The plant does require good drainage and tolerates droughts very well. This makes it a very durable plant for places like Australia where drought occurs often, and it can grow almost anywhere provided it has full sun (doesn’t like the shade) and well drained soil. The plant can be easily mistaken for another plant during its early stages as it can look like many other grassy plants when it is still young. For this reason, it is important to be absolutely 100% confident that it is a oat plant prior to harvesting the plant for use. If you are even remotely unsure it is a safer option to purchase your oatstraw instead. You can buy oat straw, milky oats, and oats themselves in multiple forms from online retailers (Austral Herbs is a great place to start looking) and some shops.
The oat plant can be broken down into components and these are:
Milky Oats – immature oat seed heads which are produce a milky juice
Oat Straw – the entire stalk including seed heads, this is often dried for use
Grain – the grain produced by the plant which we use as oats.
The belief is that milky oats provides more immediate benefits (believed to be felt anywhere from hours to a week after consumption or application) and it is believed that the benefits from oat straw need to build up over weeks to years of regular consumption to feed the benefits. Both Milky Oats and oat straw hold similar benefits and risks, the main difference between them is milky oats provides a more immediate effect on the body when compared to oat straw which takes time before you notice anything. The oats themselves are used as food for people, in skin care products for people, in hair care products for people and the oats are also used as food for animals. It is believed that the oats themselves are beneficial in supporting people with cholesterol issues amongst many other health benefits. The oats are also a great source of soluble fibre, fat and protein. However, this article hopes to run through the benefits and risks associated with the herb oat straw.
Traditionally oat straw and milky oats have been used as a mild relaxant, nervous system restorative, to strengthen weaken constitutions, and to support those with shingles and multiple sclerosis. It has also been utilised to improve digestion, improve stress levels, improve the consumers overall mental health (particularly for those who struggle with depression or anxiety, and even to help people with sleep difficulties (insomnia). Although, there is limited (but increasing) scientific evidence to support many of the therapeutic claims held there is no denying this herb holds with it a long history and carries within it a high nutritional value which should not be overlooked. Oat straw is rich in:
Calcium - HIGH CONTENT – 41% of your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in less than ¼ cup
Iron – roughly 8% RDI from a cup
Zinc – Trace amounts only
Vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B9 (folate), D, E, & A.
Dietary fibre – HIGH CONTENT – roughly 70% of your RDI in less than ¼ cup
Sodium – roughly 20% RDI from a cup
Phosphorus – roughly 32% of your RDI in a cup
Manganese – roughly 4% of the RDI in a cup
Magnesium – (HIGH CONTENT – roughly 85% RDI from less than ¼ cup)
Chromium – (HIGH CONTENT – roughly 92% RDI from less than ¼ a cup)
The nutritional contents also contain trace amounts of silicon (2.8mg in a cup) and potassium (8% RDI in a cup). Furthermore, the high content of chromium in Oat Straw is believed to assist in the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels while the steroidal compounds within this herb are believed to assist with digestive issues, organ support (particularly the pancreas and liver),and mood stabilisation. For those who struggle with eating disorders, loss of appetite, or anxiety fuelled eating problems the oat straw is believed to fuel the desire to eat food which in turn supports the consumer to increase food consumption. In addition, the oatstraw has for many years been used as a nervous system restorative agent and to help support effective functioning of the brain by improving alertness, clearing thoughts and improving cognition in the consumer.
The B complex vitamins and calcium contained within oat straw are believed to assist the body in fighting oxidative stress while producing energy within the body. These then may provide benefit to the brain, bones, heart, lungs and possibly even the reproductive system. Folate (B9) contained within the oat straw helps support the body in formation of red blood cells and cell growth. This vitamin is particularly useful for those who are considering conceiving or who are already pregnant as there are some studies to suggest that folate may help prevent up to 70% of neural tube defects in babies. In fact, it is recommended that those pregnant or trying for a baby to obtain at least 600mcg of folate from their diet. Oat straw may provide a way easily acquire this, various sources often recommend it stating that it is safe or likely safe during pregnancy. However, it is incredibly important to be aware that limited to no scientific studies have been done on oat straw use in pregnancy so please speak to your medical care provider and do your research before consuming.
For the person who needs to cut back on caffeine yet needs that energy boost Oat straw may be your answer. Oat straw is believed to increase alpha-2 brainwaves (brainwaves which are most prominent during wakefulness) and suppress cytokines helping you the consumer feel more alert. The amino acids are believed to improve brain functioning while inducing a feeling of relaxed wakefulness in the consumer that increases their mental focus. Unfortunately, this is rarely an instantaneous feeling which caffeine provides and does take a few days of drinking oat straw tea daily to build within your system providing that wakeful energy you may be after. It does provide this without the racing heart and crash which often accompanies caffeine consumption. Furthermore, it is believed to provide a more ‘long lasting’ energy compared to a short lived “hit”.
Pretty amazing right? Well here are a few more wonderful attributes oat straw is believed to hold:
Relieves the exhausted and debilitating feeling associated with depression
Relieves and restores energy resulting from depleted nutritional resources within the body
Balances menstrual cycles, reduces bloating, mood fluctuations, and eases cramps.
Eases night sweats or hot flushes associated with menopause
Inhibits monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) resulting in increased dopamine levels in the body
Suppresses inflammatory cytokines which are implicated in various brain disorders
Improves skin (particularly in those with eczema)
Strengthens bones, teeth, hair and nails
Provides pain relief (it has been used as a pain relief option for shingles, fibromyalgia, urinary tract infections, menstrual cramps, kidney stones, eczema and even arthritis).
Supports reproductive and sexual health
It is of course important to note that while some of these touted benefits are supported by scientific evidence however limited (this is still growing) not every benefit has been scientifically studied to provide answers. Much of the information available is only anecdotal. For instance, oats and oat straw have a long history of being used as sexual enhancers and vitality restorers. It is not an ‘aphrodisiac’; however, it holds a history of supporting the endocrine system and is believed to ‘get those hormones flowing’. It is also believed to increase pleasure, sensitivity and enhance the ‘experience’ through regular consumption of the oat straw. In fact, the saying “sowing your wild oats” or “sowing your oats” came from the long history of oat and oat straw use for reproductive health and sexual function. However, the claims surrounding the use of oats for reproductive health and sexual function are not completely backed by the scientific evidence or are supported by incredibly weak evidence. This is a similar situation for a range of the claimed benefits of oat straw. Conversely, some of the claims that are supported by scientific evidence either requires further research or is at the beginning of any process towards further research due to the positive outcomes discovered. These scientifically supported potential benefits of oat straw consumption are:
Improves and supports cardiovascular health
Improves cognitive brain functioning and mental ‘alertness’ – POSSIBLY, the positive effects seem to appear primarily in those whose brain functioning was often impaired initially.
Reduces inflammatory cytokines linked to psychological or physical chronic conditions
Relieves stress, anxiety, and depression– POSSIBLY, there are not yet scientific studies that I could located where this was tested in humans it has only been tested in animals at this time
Suppresses inflammatory cytokines which are implicated in various brain disorders
Relieves the exhausted and debilitating feeling associated with depression - POSSIBLY
Inhibits monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) resulting in increased dopamine levels in the body
Potential Risks and Contraindications
At the time of writing this there are no known interactions (drug or food) for oat straw. Various sources suggest that it is likely safe for use during pregnancy; however, there are no scientific studies or finding that I am aware of which confirm the safety of oat straw during pregnancy. Therefore, if you elect to utilise oat straw during pregnancy it is best to first do your own thorough research and most importantly consult with your medical care provider before proceeding.
Oat straw does not contain gluten; however, it is often grown in the same fields as plants/foods containing gluten and produced on the same machinery which may result in cross-contamination posing a risk to those with celiac disease or a wheat allergy. There is little in the way of detrimental impacts for those who have gluten ‘intolerances’ as opposed to celiac or allergies. However, that is not to say a problem will not present itself due to cross-contamination and the known gluten or wheat intolerance. Furthermore, oat straw and oats both contain a protein that is known as ‘avenin’ this protein is a similar protein to the wheat protein ‘gliadin’. The protein avenin protein is said to be tolerated well by some people who have gluten intolerance, celiac or wheat allergies; however, for a handful of other people with these health issues the avenin protein is NOT tolerated and may result in mild-serious problems.
Another important thing to be aware of is oat straw ‘overdose’, particularly if you choose to consume oat straw as side effects can sometimes occur if you consume to much. These side effects are common when more than 1000mg or 3 cups are consumed, and side effects include:
Vomiting or Diarrhoea
Loss of Appetite
There is limited evidence to suggest that exceeding the 1000mg per day or maximum of 3-4 cups of oat straw tea provides any further benefits; however, there are concerns that the side effects ‘risk’ outlined above may start increasing if more than 1000mg per day or 3-4 cups is exceeded. Please be aware that some sources available outline this risk, while many others do not include this risk at all; however, it may be best to air on the side of caution if you are choosing to consume oat straw and limit yourself to 3 cups of oat straw tea per day to reduce chances of any potential side effects.
Using Oat Straw
If you choose to use oat straw one of the best ways to do so is by making an infusion. To make the infusion place 3 tea spoons into a jar that can hold between 500-1000ml of water (it should ideally be able to hold 750-1000ml, it will also need a lid and a dark glass jar is best) and fill the rest of the jar with boiling water equal. Place on the lid, shake it around gently and set it aside somewhere dark for at least 4 hours. You may find it easiest to do it in the evening and leave it to sit overnight while you sleep. After the time is up strain out your herbs to leave the infused water. Sip throughout the day. You can add juice or honey if you would like to give it even more ‘taste’ and simply sip it throughout the day. Another way is to simply place a teaspoon on oat straw into a tea strainer, pour in the boiling water, let sit for 5 minutes and then drink your tea with or without honey. Benefits of oat straw build up over time so many sources will recommend you consume the oat straw on a regular basis rather than as a ‘once-off’ if you are hoping to see any benefit from it. However, it is important to remember air on the side of caution with consumption due to the risk outlined above of potential ‘side-effects’ from consuming more than 3 cups of oat straw in a day. Another thing to be aware of is use of sugar and metal with your tea; if you are drinking oat straw in the hopes of achieving medicinal benefits over time as opposed to drinking it simply due to the taste it is important to avoid use of sugar and metal utensils. Metal utensils and sugar both reduce or destroy medicinal benefits of many herbs rendering them almost useless for you. It is best to utilise wooden utensils, plant based utensils, or if all else fails plastic (be incredibly careful with plastic though, some may leach toxins into your drink which might be worse than reduced properties of the herb from the metal) and avoid using sugar. Instead utilise juice, fruits, herbs or honey to taste.
To conclude, oat straw may have many benefits and of these benefits some are supported by scientific evidence while other claimed benefits are not supported. Conversely, oat straw has been used effectively for hundreds of years based on the anecdotal evidence available to date, it (oat straw) is often well supported and used by many complementary or alternative healing practitioners around the world, including Ayurvedic practitioners. It does not have any known food or drug interactions which is fantastic for many. However, like many other options for health support around it does not come without risks. It is important to do your own research, become familiar with not simply the overall risks but also risks that may be associated with your individual circumstance, and most importantly speak to a trained medical professional if you are considering using oat straw.
ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra Doula who also spent over 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside Doula qualifications. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 5 children (2 with disabilities). Information within this article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed as medical advice and should not be used as medical advice. Crystals outlined in this article should not be used in place of medical advice or treatment. If you are experiencing physical or mental health concerns, please seek help from a Medical Professional.Furthermore, a small commission is made on some links provided within these blog articles
We hope you have found this post informative and make sure you let us know if there is a topic you would like us to cover in our blogs. If you are interested in learning more and finding out about our Canberra Doula Services (ACT & Nearby NSW), Travelling Doula Service (Wider NSW & QLD), or Energy Healing Sessions make sure you get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.
You may like this article: Let's Talk Turmeric