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?”
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.
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…
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?
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!!