We dieted (drank an infusion every day for 2-4 weeks) oatstraw in the first year of my herbal program. I noticed in my journals that for the duration of my time drinking an overnight infusion of oats, I was sad, slow-moving, always near tears, and overall felt very small and fragile. Coming right out of my diet of nettles, wherein I felt like Wonder Woman, the change was profound and unpleasant. First we'll talk about why that might have been, and then I'll go a little deeper into why oatstraw (and other plants that might not make a good first impression) is worth another try.
A note on nomenclature: I use the terms oats and oatstraw interchangeably, but not all parts of an oat plant are necessarily the same. The picture above is a great illustration. The green pod is the "oat top," seen here approaching maturity. When that green pod is still closed, the plant is young, and the tops are called "milky oats" because of the white liquid released when the pod is squeezed. When the pod opens, as seen above, the oats that we eat as oatmeal are visible inside. Oatstraw, my subject for the day, is the leaf and stalk of this plant. Also known as hay!
Avena is a highly cooling plant, which turned out to be my biggest issue with it. If you struggle with hot flashes or tend to run hot as a general rule, you will likely NOT have any of the negative-feeling effects I experienced. Then, oatstraw might be your best friend right off the bat! But I run cold, so ingesting a large amount of a cooling plant further depressed my system (including my mood).
Oats are also slightly sweet, which in Western herbalism usually points to a plant being nourishing and constructive (also called building). And, as eaters of oatmeal know, oats are VERY nourishing. When eaten as a food, they are absorbed slowly, which means one feels fuller longer, and there are no spikes in blood sugar. The same nutritive properties are present in the oat tops and the straw. Think of a big oatstraw infusion as a snack you're munching throughout the day.
Where oatstraw really shines, though, is in its connection to the nervous system. This plant is one of our best nervines, which means it soothes and supports the nerves. This is literal, in that oats help to protect and rebuild the myelin sheath around our nerve cells, but is also metaphorical. Oats are used often to calm anxiety and its sister ailment, insomnia. Again, these effects will likely be more pronounced if you're taking the herb in infusion or tincture form, but even eating a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, if the oats are organic and minimally-processed, will do some of this good work. That, too, was part of my problem. I needed all that nourishment and those sedative, tonic effects, but I was already eating oatmeal in the morning when I started the plant diet. Too many oats for my cold, depression-prone system!
If you find yourself having a reaction like mine to a plant -- that is to say, a negative reaction that is not medically threatening, just unpleasant -- consider doing some research into that plant. Is it working against your constitution? Are there good benefits you're getting alongside the drawbacks? If there are benefits, it may be worth it to keep going with the plant, but to lower your dose or pair it with a plant or plants you know your body likes. If and when I drink oatstraw again, I'll pair it with nettles, which is highly warming. That way I'll feel nourished by the oats without being chilled by them.
Plant allies abound, y'all. Be well!
Mountain Rose Herbs
Lancaster Farm (amazing local teas, if you live in the DC area!)
Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.