MILKY OAT SEED (Avena sativa)

Latin: Avena sativa

WHAT IT DOES: Milky oat seed is sweet in taste, nutritive, and calming.  It restores strength and energy to the nervous system when exhausted. It also can be used to reduce craving for tobacco and drugs.  


SAFETY ISSUES: none known

• Tincture (1:2): 20-40 drops three to four times per day

Milky oat seed is a mild but reliable remedy for strengthening the entire nervous system after periods of prolonged stress.  The seed is harvested when it becomes milky.  Growers must squeeze the seeds each day until the milky juice oozes out, which only occurs for 5-8 days.  Once collected, the juice must immediately be turned into a tincture.  It is used to treat nervous debility, stress, weak nerve force, anxiety, depression and the accompanying exhaustion, and general fatigue (Felter, 1922).  A chief virtue of milky oat seed is its extreme tolerability by otherwise highly sensitive patients who have difficulty withstanding treatment with stronger tonic herbs.  It seems to exert an immediate effect (necessary when patients exhibit extreme anxiety and nervousness) as well as a long-term strengthening benefit. 

I often combine it with scullcap, which has stronger sedative action.  Good alternatives include “Avena-Scullcap compound” made by Herb Pharm and “Phytocalm formula” made by Herbalist and Alchemist.  These formulas have seen many of our patients through severely stressful periods, and have helped many more avoid resorting to stronger Western medications.  It is safe for use by everyone, even infants.

Herbalist David Winston, who maintains a fabulous private herbal medicine library, reports that milky oat seed was used extensively by Eclectic physicians, and he mentioned finding a pamphlet detailing its use for treating morphine addiction as far back as the 1880’s.  European herbalists have also traditionally used it to treat opium addiction (Jack, 1971).  Numerous studies serve to substantiate, at least partially, claims of the herb’s usefulness in addiction control, including its effectiveness as an aid for smoking cessation.  Although the research done so far is sparse, the clinical results I have seen remain impressive.

Research Highlights

• In a placebo-controlled study, researchers gave a fresh alcohol extract of mature oat plant to heavy smokers.  The extract was found to reduce cigaretteusage significantly more than the placebo (Anand, 1971).

• In another study, a tincture of oat seed taken with malic acid and apple juice for four weeks led to a 67% reduction in cigarette consumption (Raffalt and Andersen, 1975).

• Chemical studies have revealed that the addition of water to milky oat seed causes a significant loss of potency.  Water extracts have not been significantly more effective than placebos in studies of its ability to control addictions (Gabrynowicz 1974, Bye et al., 1974)

• Pharmaceutically prepared fresh alcohol extracts of both fresh oat plants and oat seeds have exhibited activity as nicotine and morphine antagonists (Connor et al., 1975).

• Additionally, out of a group of ten male chronic opium addicts taking a 2-ml dose (about 30 drops) three times per day of oat tincture, six gave up opium without serious withdrawal symptoms.  During a follow-up period of three to 19 months, the six successful participants were able to stay off opium completely (Anand, 1971).