Oats are in the Poaceae or grass family, and their botanical name is Avena sativa. Also known as the common oat, this herb is one of the eight major cereal crops of the world.
The history of Oats
Records show that cultivation most likely began around 2,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, in Celtic and Germanic regions of Europe. Oats have been around much longer than that, though. What is thought to be the oldest Oat grain was found in Egypt among remains of the 12th Dynasty, which occurred around 2000 B.C.
Oats most likely originated as a weed in fields of other grains like wheat and barley. They were historically considered inferior and used primarily as fodder for horses. Even today only about 5 percent of Oats that are grown in the world are eaten by people — the rest is used as livestock feed. Oats were mentioned by ancient Greek and Roman writers including Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Paracelsus, Galen and Pliny. The Romans called it Avena, which is likely the origin of the genus name.
Oats in herbalism and folklore
The immature “milky” seed of Oats is the part used in our extracts. This fruit or “seed” bears two glumes that together form a deep “V” shape. When pinched, the starchy endosperm of the unripe fruit should pop, lending the term “milky” to the description. Here at Herb Pharm, we grow Oats as a cover crop. They work well for erosion control and are great nutrient scavengers. The modified blueberry rakes that we use for our Chamomile harvest also work well for the Oat Seed harvest, making this a relatively quick and simple fresh harvest for our farm crew.
The Oats that we grow are the same species as those commonly consumed as a food, but we harvest them prior to ripening, before the grain fully forms. As a food source, ripe Oats are known for being high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Stories in Greek mythology say that the Earth mother Gaia was raised on the milk of milky Oats as an infant. It is also said that to dream of a field of ripe Oats ready for the sickle is a most favorable omen, under all circumstances.
An extract of the unripe seed was introduced in the late 1800s and became an important preparation for the Eclectics at the turn of the 20th century.
Herb at a glance
Botanical name: Avena sativa
Common name(s): Oat
Plant family: Poaceae
Native habitat: Europe, Asia and Africa
Parts used: “milky” seed
Botanical description: small green seeds with milky white liquid inside
Use(s): Traditional support for the nervous system*