Ode to Oats
I love late summer and early fall. Harvest - so much to pick and use and preserve. The bounty of garden and fields abounds. And that fresh start back-to-school reset vibe never fails to hit me. Time to create structures and routines that anchor us through our slow descent into the dark months.
But coming through the hottest, driest time of the year leaves its impact on our bodies. Especially if we're busy busy doing all the travel and trips and experiences. Feeling drained, impatient, poorly resourced, or even fried and burnt-out coming into this new season?
Enter oats. That's right - regular ol' oatmeal oats. There's a specific point in the development of the seeds in which (when squeezed) they exude a milky latex. This "milk" is filled with potent alkaloids that calm, soothe and restore fried nervous systems. The oats are only in this stage for a few days in their development and have to be picked then and tinctured fresh in high-proof alcohol to extract these medicinal components ... along with an impressive array of vitamins (B,C,D,E,K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, chromium and silica). But because this is such a finicky, hard to predict harvest window, it can make this medicine challenging to mass produce and therefore track down. I didn't have a reliable source, so I started growing my own, saving seeds, planting more, losing my shit over the massive flocks of birds that descended to feed on my freshly sown crop, creating elaborate cages to protect my germinating oats, freeing sneaky stupid birds from said cages, and finally this year pulling off a harvest large enough to share. Luckily, I am a farmer's daughter, and the trials and tribulations feel fitting. Growing oats not only stirs a wonderful childhood nostalgia, but also feels like an ancestral birthright. Plus it really cracks my dad up that I harvest my oats with a pair of scissors (cue non-farming folk to google a picture of a combine harvester for comparison).
An oat patch is a lush and lovely place in early summer, the whisper of the leaves in wind, swishing and dancing responsively while being watered. The playful dangle of the seeds off their stems - unlike rigid wheat and barley who hold their offspring so close and tightly bound. Their juicy vitality a clue to what they can offer us and our nervous systems.
I use this term "nervous systems" so often in working with bodies, but recognize some folks might not be familiar with it - other than an image of the pathways of nerves leaving the brain for their journey through the body. Yes, that is your nervous system. But it's also present as you notice your body being 'wound up' in fight/flight or calmed into rest and digest states (sympathetic activation vs parasympathetic nervous system regulation). We need both, but so many of us live in that chronically activated state, rushing around from one thing to the next, that we have a hard time down-regulating. Which makes it harder to digest our meals comfortably and efficiently, or to wind down to sleep without that glass of nervous system depressant we call wine or beer.
And so we circle back to oats. Potent, magical medicine and one I need regularly. Milky oats is like a soothing balm to that wound-up frazzled feeling I live with as: a) a human with anxiety since childhood and b) a human attempting to raise tiny humans to be more well-regulated individuals than I (send me all your thoughts and prayers, it's one heck of a task).
Milky oats are like the cooling, lubricating oil poured into an overheating engine - and a top up of gas in your empty tank while we're at it. They calm us without sedating us, and build us up in a steady, sustainable way. There's something innately comforting about a milky medicine - reminiscent of that first food that nourished and nurtured us all.
It's also my sense that milky oats have the ability to bring us to a place where we regain our capacity for play and lightheartedness if we've lost it. You know those seasons where life just feels like a never-ending to-do list amid the constant refrain "can I actually pull it off/make it through?" - oats start gifting us little buffer moments of ease in the day where we can be reminded to enjoy/appreciate life.
What else? Oats are sooo safe. Safe enough to eat in mass amounts (please do, they so good for you). Safe for pregnant and breastfeeding folks. Safe if you're taking other meds and are worried about drug interactions. For kiddos or those concerned about the alcohol, I just put a dose of tincture in a small cup and pour some boiling water in it.* By the time the water is cool, the majority of the alcohol content has evaporated off as well.
Wise woman MD/herbalist/midwife/mama Aviva Romm recommends milky oats for: nervous exhaustion, insomnia, chronic anxiety and stress, tension and irritability, excitatory states, general debility, depression, prevention of osteoporosis, postpartum relaxation and increased breast milk supply. She pretty much has it covered.
Scroll down for more photos of growing and milking and harvesting. And if this lengthy ode has you craving some of your own to try, I've got a small batch available this year for sale.
60 ml bottles with droppers for $25 and 240 ml for $65.
Wherever this change of season finds you, I hope you are feeling well and vital.
*If the alcohol is a limiting factor, yet the oats are calling to you ... I also dried some in the milky stage that could be used for teas/long infusions. Not as extractive of those alkaloids, but sometimes I'll chew the soaked seeds after I've strained my tea.