Wild Abundance: Foraging Fridays

This week:

Wild Oats! (Avena sativa, Avena fatua and Avena barbata).

During our visit with America last Saturday (see previous post), I walked into her kitchen and was taken aback by the large bowl of something on her counter. I knew what it was, and yet I didn’t, and while my brain tried to turn around the puzzle pieces I asked, “What IS that?”

America happily chirped “Milky oats!”.

I flipped through my internal glossary, even more confused. “Wait…like Wild oats, right?”

Right!

One of the reasons I couldn’t place them immediately, is because seeing such a large quantity in a bowl threw me off. But I know this plant well, and so do you…it’s (fortunately or unfortunately) widely distributed across the U.S. as an invasive weed. Each year I mean to harvest some, and then forget. Still confused? Think a meadow with high grass in the late Spring…ah…now you’re catching on.

Slender wild oats (Avena barbata). (via)

Of course you recognize them now, dangling prettily from their long, hollow stalk. I bet you have some childhood memories of them too. As a kid, I used to day dream about how to build a fort in their midst, since after wet winters they grew enthusiastically, towering over my head. I would then scheme on who I could invite over for sticker wars.(Run your thumb and forefinger up the stalk and the oats come off in a little bouquet, which is then perfect for throwing at a friend. The little darts will stick all over their clothes and whoever is the most covered, uh…wins?). Perhaps you have another relationship with them, a costly visit to a vet involving a dog and his nose. But I bet you didn’t realize that all this time you were amongst friends…and very nourishing ones at that.

From left to right: Avena sativa (milky oats), Avena fatua (wild oats), Avena barbata (slender wild oats)

Speaking of nourishing friends, since America was my inspiration for my own foraging this week, I invited her to be a guest author for today’s post. America is one of my very favorite people in the whole world (as she quickly becomes for anyone who meets her) and she also has this amazing combination of smarts…heart smart, head smart, soul smart. I have purposely not edited the thoughts she sent me in an email (sorry Meri) because even when she self-confesses to a run-on sentence, you don’t even realize it…it’s just that much fun to trip along her neural pathways. I find her an unending source of delight and I’m excited to share her with you. Please welcome…America!

I’ve been trying to think of something clever to write about oats, but my brain feels like oatmeal! Here’s what comes to mind: I think of them as just a really supportive plant, one that “sticks to your bones” as my grandfather used to say (which sort of freaked me out). They’re good for our whole systems as a general tonic, and especially for the nervous system. For me, they have a kind of “I’m here for you” embrace going on: a combination of inner-peace-inducing and skin-strengthening. That’s a pretty great combo… resilient on the outside, and calm on the inside. I find that in teas they taste like really watered down grass, which is not my favorite flavor, so I mix them with chamomile and honey for tea. My personal best oat practice is a big handful of them (whole) in a bowl of hot water as a seriously happy feet foot soak.

Also, while we’re on the subject of oats, if you want a cool recipe to put in– even though wild oats require an insane amount of work to process into a grain (and if you did use them as grain, you’d want them when they’re fully mature and dry, not in the half-mature “milky stage” you pick them in for medicine)– I was recently at my lovely friends’ house, and they made drinking oats (which doesn’t sound weird in their heartland of Columbia) that were so insanely yummy: it’s basically oatmeal, but with one part oats three parts water, and a bunch of cinnamon, and a little sugar/honey. Then you blend that and drink it lukewarm or cold. It’s like oat horchata and strikes me as a very fabulous way to get picky little peewees to eat their oats. You can try it for dessert tonight and see if you want to rewrite that run-on sentence of instructions for your blog patrons.

Sassypants.

I love that she leads with the embrace of wild oats…”I’m here for you”. I had that exact experience as I picked my own (twice!) this past week. Frequently when foraging, I feel a bit guilty or timid about picking too much, and when I sense into the energy of a plant, I often get the message “Take a little, ok, that’s enough”. Not with wild oats, however. Already having loved this plant for a long time, I found myself bonding to it even more as each time I checked in, I got the message, “Please, take more! Take as much as you want! Let us support you!”. Indeed, this is what milky oats offers…support for your nervous system, mending nervous exhaustion and soothing anxiety, as well as healing for your skin (eczema, psoriasis, dryness, itchiness). Wild oats also boost fertility, and Susun Weed warns of this effect saying, “if you don’t want to get pregnant, watch out when you’re taking oats!”.

So how do you get these benefits? (Don’t worry, this will not involve becoming The Little Red Hen, where you are begging everyone and anyone, “Who will help me thresh these oats?”. Please don’t worry yourself with processing them into grain…a small bowl will take you approximately 8,000 hours and I like you too much to lose you to insanity.)

This is also not the way to do it.

The first thing you want to determine is when the oats are in their milky stage. This is easy, and once you know what to look for, you will spot ripe oats everywhere.

When oats first come out of their sheath on the stalk, their little “legs” are stuck together. As they become milky, the legs separate…

Avena sativa.

Finally, in their last stage, they begin to dry out and become golden brown (ripe oat). For our purposes, you want to harvest them when they are milky. For us best coasters, this is the beginning of May. America had been watching her little patch of oats, next to her driveway, ripen, each time thinking, “I really should get to those soon”. On May 5th, just before we arrived, a farm hand had approached with a mower. Giant bowl in hand, Meri frantically harvested, and I imagine her as Ceres incarnate, oats and hands flying, capturing all the abundance before it was lost.

If you are not sure if it is milky, here’s how to tell.

Pull apart the legs (maybe this wasn’t the greatest metaphor to use…)

Extract one of the little oat seeds from the middle. You will notice it is soft.

Gently squeeze. If it is milky, a creamy substance will easily come out. It tastes mild and sweet and…oaty!

I decided to make a tincture from the fresh oats, and saved another harvest to dry for tea. You can also follow America’s suggestion to steep them for a foot bath, or if you are feeling adventurous, you could juice them! (Please check out this wonderful post from The Medicine Woman’s Roots for a more in depth conversation around the medicinal and energetic properties of wild oats.)

How to tincture Wild Oats

First, harvest your oats by using the aforementioned childhood method (run thumb and forefinger up stalk, collecting all the seeds in a “bouquet”). Fern and I harvested Avena fatua and Avena barbata, as I’ve never seen Avena sativa around these parts. (All three are safe to use).

Next, determine the amount you need by placing them in a quart jar.

Next, fill jar to the top with vodka. Then, dump it in your blender.

Blend the sh*t out of it.

Pour it back in the jar and label it with the date it was made.

A menstrum is a tincture while it is…tincturing. It is the plant material, all macerated, and steeping in its solvent…which in this case is vodka.

Every day for at least two weeks, give the jar a really enthusiastic shaking. If you want to be extra careful, open the jar up after you shake it to push all the plant material back under the liquid, and to wipe down the mouth of the jar.

After two to four weeks, strain the oats through cheesecloth into another container and then do a final strain through fine mesh colander. Ta da! You have a green best friend to support you every day. (I am not telling you how much to take, because I’m not an official herbalist. Consult your naturopath, or favorite trusted book to determine what you need).

This is also Not the Thing to Do. Oat seeds have barbs that help them wiggle their way into clothing, animal fur and skin and the throats of persnickety little girls.

Last Saturday during our visit, our conversation about oats turned to…Mairzy Doats.

A kiddleydivytoo, wouldn’t you?

The Disclaimer

Think with your stomach! Do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. It is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. You’re an adult. you can make your own choices.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

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9 thoughts on “Wild Abundance: Foraging Fridays

  1. Hello insanely cute haircut!
    Thanks for a the lovin, I’m a little butterfly-y inside/bashful. I’m also psyched that you blended your tincture, I didn’t blend mine, but I thought about it, and now I’m very happy we can compare methods. And, I learned so much (from what you wrote!) I didn’t know about the legs opening and milkiness coming out (no wonder they’re fertility helpers!) although now that I think of it that’s totally true!
    Also, I love you trazillions, and I love that you love plants and medicine, and that you write this beautiful blog and share your fabulous self with the world because every time I read it, I get to feel all of the greatness of knowing you come flooding into me, which is not an experience I associate with typing very often. Big blushing hug, A

    1. Great article and funny too. I have a question for both, as I started reading also America’s comment. Do you get the same “beneficial tincture” if you do not blend them. And what is the ratio of oats to alcohol. Thank you both!

      1. goodness, this post was such a long while ago, so pleased folks are still finding my old blog! 🙂

        I made this tincture using the “folk” method. After placing my plant matter in a jar, I poured in enough vodka (you can use other high proof alcohol, but vodka has the least taste) to cover the herb. Then I dumped it all in the blender.

        When tincturing, the more surface area you create, the more concentrated your medicine will be. I think it’s important to macerate your herb when tincturing. America and I never followed up on the results, I’ll have to ask her.

        Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Teehee, wild oats are so much fun! (except when they’re getting stuck in doggy noses, or in our case, doggy scalps, then causing a mini-brain- eruption a few weeks later.) I’m love to be a jerk to pretty much everyone, but especially my grandmother, and throw them all over everyone’s clothing. I’ve never picked them for medicinal use, though now seems to be the time, based on what you described.

    I was kind of struck by what you said about tapping into a plants energy and understanding when you’ve picked enough. I was picking sage today with our neighbor for my gran, and felt that I’d picked enough… my neighbor stripped the same bush bare last year, and it hasn’t grown back quite the same yet… but anyway, I was like, “cool, okay, thank you,” when the neighbor lady came along and was like, “pick more!” And I just said noooo, and proceeded to fall face first into the bush, then scrabble back down the mini cliff face. Everyone I’ve ever picked stuff with, even those who have plant wisdom (so much more than I!), seem to not care when it’s too much. I get upset because I’m so grateful for the presence plant — like how our bottom field was full of chamomile this year — so when visitors are really grabby, I actually get really flustered.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too bullcrappy. I’m still so far away from knowing what I’d like, but I feel like folks should act the way they’d like others to act towards them. If you’re kind and sensitive, you’ll receive kindness and sensitivity…

    xo

  3. i came home and made me an oat straw infusion cuz of this post!!! thanks sweet plant diva ladies for sharing your inspirations. mmmmm. looking forward to drinking it up!! AND, i’m looking forward to a walk and some foraging of it around here. i’ve never picked it either!!!! the girls will be so into it. i’ve been thinking about upping the sexual energy, just for fun lately, it’s like this post was meant for me!! bee pollen has been helping with that too. i think that’s what started me on the renewed inspiration for healthy sexuality recently. eating lots and lots of bee pollen. thinking my next few care packages will have some in it, from these mountain bees!! avena is a really cool name.

  4. So even the seed has barbs? Good to file this bit away… somewhere in my past I’ve come upon the barbs of the outer coat…but don’t recall ever opening a pod to get to the seed… I’m guessing I’d be able to feel those barbs while chewing, yes? I ask that for this reminds me of when I was fairly recently chomping on some rosemary needles (using as breath cleanser) whilst my mom was talking to a car salesman about buyin’ her new buggy. I was daintilty mincing each needle betwixt my teeth, ok — NOT eating a handful at a time…so everything was fine UNTIL I choked down the tiniest bit of the bark or perhaps a drier needle. I coffed and coffed my fool head off and could NOT stop —to the point of tears, actually (ok, you can laugh at me, it was a big dumb goofy moment, I agree!) They were both looking at me like What in the World happened to you???! I later told my mom, but did I ever feel silly. Now when I see my rosemary plant I sometimes want to wag a finger at it and chide “YOU!!!!” But of course it was actually careless ole ME that boobed up…:)

    Mmmm, a shot of wild oat juice sounds like it would be so nourishing — I’m imagining the dry grassy airy scent of it.

    Nice to meet you, America! What a cool moniker and a knockout groovy smile!!!

  5. heeeeeeeeeeeeeey! I learn so much here! I used to pick these and pretend to make soup out of it as a kid (I was a princess – a destitute one- and I had to eat the soup in order to keep warm while fighting off a seven headed dragon that lived under the tree across from my tree) Your blog has inspired me so much so….that when we go out bush, riverside or beachside, Steve and I have started to identify edibles. Just got a book sent to us today by a NZ author, about NZ foraging and eating. Hooray! And thank you! Seeing you soon sweetpea.

  6. so informative! now i’m on the lookout for wild oats. i haven’t seen any up here in the northwest, but they have to be around here somewhere! thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

  7. Hello sweeties… How nice to meet America, and I see how you two hold such common ground. This is wonderful sharing, and I am quite enthused about it, though still feeling the enthusiasm from last weeks spruce and pine. I am noticing little tips ready for the making, all over the place now I am tuned in. I took wild oats last year as part of a remedy for me and they were lovely, and you have reminded me I could take some again, and perhaps this is the time of year for it, after all that winter weary work of staying warm through moving house and working hard. Its a wild and windy May here, but the greens just all keep getting greener, and in the sunny spells I think I am in paradise for a while.
    We had our May pole dance in school a little later then the 1st, on account of weather and were blessed with sunny spells, it felt like such a fertility rite for me this year, though god knows where thats coming from for me, I felt though so alive, and connected as we walked sweetly around in the breezy sunlight. I waked to school through the woods, picking greens on my way to wind into crowns for us. As I went, the plants said, pick me and me and me, we all want to be in a may crown: )
    Me and Little M maybe also need to pick a day for foraging, we are such arty crafters, but thats all indoor stuff, we need to be out together.
    And Fern, is a wise woman of herbs and she is barely out of babyhood. What a clever loving Mommy!!!!
    xx E

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