Oatstraw: Medicine from the hills
The hills surrounding Yolo County are covered with oatstraw. In the coming months this annual green grass will turn to gold. As summer rolls in, the green and gold of the hills give way to a darker brown. The “golden rolling hills of California” are honored in paintings, songs and poems. Have you ever wondered which plants give us this wonderful display of changing colors? Well, one of them is oatstraw.
Oatstraw (Avena sativa) is a plant that has colonized millions of acres. It escaped the farmer’s oat fields and has naturalized throughout California. It chokes out native plants and can literally take over entire hillsides. The good thing about it is that almost everyone can benefit from drinking oatstraw tea. It grows in such abundance that unlike many other medicinal plants, it does not matter how much of it you harvest. You can pick as much oatstraw as you want without having to worry about the environmental impact of your harvest.
Oatstraw is usually ready to harvest from mid February through mid April depending on its exposure to sun and access to water. As with harvesting any herb, do not pick any plants unless you are absolutely sure that you have identified the correct plant. It is best to attend an herb walk or have a knowledgeable person introduce you to a plant. When harvesting any herb you want to make sure that you pick them in a place that is as clean as possible. Never harvest near a road, from an area that may have been sprayed with herbicides or from a place where dogs or cats frequent.
Oatstraw needs to be harvested while it is still green. If the plant is beginning to turn gold, it is past the harvesting stage and you need to wait until next year. It is important to harvest oatstraw while there is still a milk-like substance in the seed pods. Squeeze the seed pods, if they are milky, then harvest the top seven inches of the plant including the milky seed pods. Let the plant dry in a cool, dark place and then store it in a jar or a paper bag in a dark cabinet. If you are not able to harvest the herb yourself, dried oatstraw is readily available at the Davis Food Co-op.
Why would you want to go through all of this trouble to have a bunch of dried oat grass around your house? Oatstraw is a wonderful nourishing herb that is one of the best remedies that I know of for stress, emotional challenges, and a burned out nervous system.
Oatstraw helps with insomnia, a chattering mind, anxiety, nervous exhaustion, nerve pain, recovery from substance abuse, emotional trauma, tension, depression, P.M.S., and nervous headaches. When someone seems overwrought, on the edge, overdone, frazzled, and generally worn out, I suggest oatstraw. Oatstraw helps to regenerate and nourish the nervous system. It is gentle, calming and soothing. Oatstraw is not a quick fix herb; it is an herb that can be quite effective if used on a regular basis over time. Every person and every situation is different, but a general guideline could be to drink two to three cups of infusion, three or four times a week for several weeks.
Oatstraw is one of my favorite herbal remedies for emotional challenges and stress and it actually has a very nice taste! Hardly a week goes by without use this gentle healing medicine from my surrounding hills.
Add four tablespoons of dried oatstraw to one quart of water. Bring it to a boil, turn off the heat, let it sit in the pot with the lid on for four hours, then strain the herb from the infusion. Drink at room temperature throughout the day or re-heat your infusion as desired.
Kami McBride is the author of The Herbal Kitchen and has helped thousands of people learn to use herbs in their daily lives in ways that are healthy, safe and fun. She is the director of Cultivating the Herbal Medicine Woman Within, an experiential training in using herbs in the home for everyday health. An intuitive and inspiring teacher, Kami works to revive the cultural art of home herbal care and teaches herbology as a relationship with the Earth and a way of life. For a schedule of classes or herbal consultations Kami can be reached at (707) 446-1290 or sign up for her free herbal e-newsletter at: www.livingawareness.com