What Is It?
Native to the warm Mediterranean regions, oats have been cultivated for thousands of years as a source of food and folk remedies. Today, the oat plant (Avena sativa) is most famous for the nutritious cereal grain that it provides–think morning oatmeal. However, the whole plant, referred to as oat straw, gathered when the grains are ripe, includes also the leaves, stems. The whole plant is then dried and chopped, and used in both internal and external forms by traditional herbalists. The grain itself, harvested in late summer, is milled to produce oatmeal and oat bran. Oatmeal, the ground grain, has a high silica content, and can be used externally for skin problems. Oat bran, produced from the coarse husks of the grain, is good at reducing cholesterol levels.
In traditional medicine, oat straw is used in various forms (liquid extracts, tinctures, and teas being the most popular) to treat a variety of ailments, including arthritis and rheumatism; it’s also taken as a diuretic tea to combat fluid retention. It is a concentrated source of silica (silicon dioxide), which among dozens of other functions is key to the development of healthy skin, hair, nails, and bones.
Some sources also recommend oat straw applied externally for treating shingles, herpes infections. In Europe today, herbalists and alternative health practitioners prescribe oat straw extracts and tinctures as nerve tonics for weakened constitutions, for example, as well as treating addictions. But oat straw’s soundest reputation by far is as an external remedy for irritated and inflammatory dry skin conditions.
Specifically, oat straw may help to:
Soothe itchy skin. Oat straw has rich emollient qualities due to its high gluten and mucilage content. Tinctures, liquid extracts, creams (available in Great Britain), and cooled oat straw tea compresses can be applied topically to sooth dry, itchy, irritated skin. A fine powder milled from the dried oat straw is also popular as a bath additive. The German government has officially approved of oat straw products for these purposes. A related product made from the same plant, called colloidal oatmeal is widely used in the United States for rashes and itchy skin conditions such as sunburn and shingles.
Promote nail health. As a concentrated source of silica, both oatmeal and oat straw supplements and tea may help to strengthen nails that are cracking or splitting. Silica is a key ingredient in nails.
Help smokers quit. Several small studies in the 1970s suggested that oat straw liquid extract might help tobacco users kick the habit by easing withdrawal from nicotine. One study even reported success in using oat straw to treat opium addiction. Well-designed follow-up trials have failed to reproduce these successful results, however. In other words, its effectiveness for tobacco withdrawal purposes remains unclear.
Relaxation. Regarded as an excellent tonic for the whole system, traditional herbalists recommend oat straw tonic for physical and emotional fatigue, including mild insomnia and anxiety. However, there have been no clinical studies to verify this effect.
Homeopathic preparations of wild oats were formulated into the Bach Flower Remedies. Specifically, the remedy is recommended for times of dissatisfaction, indecisiveness and uncertainty about the future.
• dried herb/tea
• powder (also in freeze dried capsules)
• liquid extract
Grain products (oatmeal, oat bran, colloidal oatmeal)
–Topical oat straw products can be applied once or twice a day.
–If you have no powdered oatmeal on hand, simply put a half-cup of whole oats into a nylon stocking and hang it from the faucet while letting bath water run over it.
For healthy nails: In addition to eating oatmeal for breakfast, make a tea by placing a heaping tablespoon of oat straw in up to 9 fluid ounces (1/4 litre, or a little over a cup) of water, and bring to a boil. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, and strain. Drink a cup of the tea (unsweetened or only slightly sweetened), two or three times a day as desired. Alternatively, use the liquid extract, one teaspoonful twice a day mixed in one-fourth cup of water, or freeze dried capsules (one capsule three times a day)
For itchy skin, as a bath additive: Boil 3.5 ounces of chopped oat straw in 3 quarts of for 20 minutes. Then add to warm bath water.
For tobacco withdrawal, use the liquid extract, one teaspoonful three times a day. Alternatively, use freeze dried capsules, one capsule three times a day.
For stress, anxiety, and general fatigue. Liquid extract, one teaspoonful three times a day or freeze dried capsule, one capsule three times a day.
Guidelines for Use
When using oat powder in your bath, avoid contact with eyes and acutely inflamed areas.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with oat straw.
Possible Side Effects
Some people may have allergic skin reactions (contact dermatitis) to oat flour. If this is true for you, avoid oat straw.
If you have celiac disease, avoid ingesting oats or oat straw preparations; they contain gluten.
David Edelberg, MD