Milky oats have been a nutritional and medicinal staple for millennia.
Milky oats are the potent, unripe pod of the oat plant, however, the whole plant is considered medicinal, and the ripe oat is used in culinary cuisine.
Traditionally, milky oats were used for nervous system exhaustion, weak hearts, and to ease tension in the body.
This article will look at the health benefits of milky oats, its safety, and history.
Table of Contents
What are Milky Oats?
Milky oats are the unripe seed pods of the oat plant. When squeezed, these plants have a “milky” sap.
The scientific name for milky oats is Avena sativa/.The oat plant is considered an ancient annual grain and one of human civilization’s oldest crops. This plant is in the Poaceae family, or “flowering grasses”.
Although this name also refers to the entire oat plant, milky oats are the most medicinal part of the plant due to their milky sap.
The green milky tops, seeds (oats), and stalks were used in many ancient medicine systems around the world. The milky tops and stalks were used medicinally, and the seeds, or oats, became a culinary staple due to their fiber and nutrient content.
In traditional medicine, milky oats are used as a tincture to aid in heart health, support the nervous system, and improve energy levels. Medicinal accounts also suggest that milky oats were used as a remedy for opium and tobacco addiction.
Modern research shows that milky oats’ anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and antioxidant properties may be attributed to their various phenolic compounds. The presence of triterpenes in milky oats may be responsible for their cognitive-enhancing properties.
Various clinical, animal and lab-based studies, and traditional accounts summarize the numerous benefits of milky oats.
Health Benefits of Milky Oats:
Milky oats’ benefits benefits have been observed in human, animal, and lab-based studies.
Below are the top research-backed studies and expert accounts from professional herbalists that describe the benefits of milky oats and its active constituents.
1. May Enhance Cognition
Evidence shows that milky oats show promising cognitive-enhancing effects.
Brain health is essential for maintaining memory, learning, solving problems, thinking critically, and storing information. Keeping the brain healthy can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders, and can impact cognition and memory recall.
A study observing healthy adults discovered that milky oat extract improved cognitive function and regulated the stress response. The extract was shown to improve working memory and the ability to multitask.
Another study found that the milky oat formula Neuravena® improved task completion time, problem-solving, memory recall, and working memory in middle-aged adults.
In another study also looking at Neuravena®, researchers observed that it helped to improve processing speed, attention, and executive function in healthy, middle-aged participants. The formula also prevented fatigue during task completion.
A research review of milky oats, and the oat plant in general, mentions that this plant enhances mental performance, learning, and alertness.
Summary:Clinical human research indicates that milky oats may work to benefit cognition by improving memory and mental performance.
2. May Support the Nervous System
Respected herbalists and traditional accounts claim that milky oats benefits the nervous system and has promising potential as an herb for nervous exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.
Anxiety and depression are considered mental health disorders that affect the nervous system. Both conditions affect mood and behavior and often trigger symptoms like fatigue, low energy, and trouble sleeping.
A review of milky oats mentions that the herb supports against nervous system exhaustion and can be used as a nerve stimulant.
In his herbal text Medical Herbalism (2003), herbalist David Hoffmann describes milky oats as “one of the best remedies for ‘feeding’ the nervous system, especially when…under stress.” It is used “in cases of nervous debility and exhaustion associated with depression.” He also mentions that milky oats are great “in combination with most…other nervines, both relaxant and stimulant, to strengthen the whole nervous system.”
Registered herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, suggests using milky oats supplementation as a tonic or to treat nervous system disorders.
The American Botanical Council recommends using milky oats for “anxiety, stress, [and] mental exhaustion,” as well as a rejuvenating and restorative tonic for the nervous system.
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1976) suggests milky oats tincture for “depression, melancholia, [and] general debility.”
Eclectic physicians, Dr. Felter and Dr. Lloyd, mention in their medical text the King’s American Dispensatory (1898) that oats “in the milk” stage are supportive as a nerve tonic for exhaustion and restoration.
Summary:Various herbalists state that milky oats may benefit the nervous system, however, human clinical studies are needed to confirm this finding.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Research shows that milky oats works to reduce inflammation.
The immune system triggers the inflammatory response when the body is exposed to internal or external trauma. Short-term inflammation is essential for the healing process; however, chronic inflammation indicates that something is wrong in the body and may lead to long-term health issues.
Research suggests that the beta-glucan content in milky oats extract is responsible for reducing inflammation as it has a regulating effect.
A research review notes the anti-inflammatory nature of polyphenols present in oats.
An animal study observing peripheral nerve disorders in rats found that milky oats extract decreased inflammatory biomarkers and inflammation. Researchers mentioned that nerve cell swelling decreased.
Rosemary Gladstar mentions that milky oats are healing for “inflammation in the digestive tract.”
Summary:Milky oats may be able to reduce inflammation, but clinical research is required to verify this finding.
4. Nutrient Rich Properties
The oat plant is known to have high nutritional content
Research suggests that the oat plant is many nutrients, including:
- Unsaturated fatty acids
- Various minerals (specifically potassium, calcium, magnesium, and selenium)
It’s been noted that milky oats contain more than triple the amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron than ripe oats.
In fact, milky oats is one of the best herbs high in magnesium.
Further research mentions that the oat and milky oats nutritional content benefits numerous health conditions, like gastrointestinal problems and stress. The oat plant requires fewer nutrients to grow and produces more nutrients than other leading crops, such as wheat and rice.
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar writes that milky oats are a wonderful “nutritive tonic [for] build[ing] overall health, vitality, energy, and stamina, while at the same time soothing and healing the system.”
The European Medicines Agency discusses the high nutritional content of oats and writes that the “green parts” (milky oats) of the plant have even higher levels of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients than the popular fruits (ripe oats).
David Hoffmann, registered herbalist of the American Herbalist Guild, mentions that milky oats are considered nutritious due to their high amounts of vitamin E and starch.
Summary:Milky oats have been found to possess several nutrients. Additional research is needed to further confirm this finding.
5. Antioxidant Properties
Research shows that one of milky oats benefits is that its active constituents exhibit antioxidant effects.
Antioxidant molecules can neutralize and eradicate free radicals. Antioxidants are thought to reduce stress, support healthy aging, and benefit overall health.
Research shows that milky oats’ high nutritional content plays an important role in its antioxidant activity. They are specifically rich in selenium which protects the body from free radical damage.
A lab-based study observing milky oats extract discovered that it reduces skin cell injuries caused by oxidative stress. Researchers mentioned that the antioxidant activity comes from milky oats’ phytochemicals like polyphenols, avenanthramides, carotenoids, and soluble fibers (beta-glucan). These antioxidant constituents also protect against oxidative stress-induced issues like inflammation and neurological diseases.
The government agency, the European Medicines Agency, notes that the organic acids in milky oats, like caffeic and ferulic acid, have antioxidant properties.
The American Botanical Council mentions the oat in the “milky stage” is used for stress suggesting the herb manages free radicals that induce oxidative stress.
Summary:It has been noted that milky oats may have an antioxidant effect, but additional research is needed for confirmation of this finding.
6. May Support the Cardiovascular System
Traditional accounts and clinical research show that milky oats benefits heart health.
Cardiovascular issues take the form of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, or poor diet. While some of these disease develop over time, some can be present at birth. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States.
A clinical study conducted on oats discovered that the beta-glucan was responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol in adults with high cholesterol. Since the milky oat tops also contain high levels of beta-glucan, they may be able to reduce problematic cholesterol levels.
Another clinical trial demonstrated that oats high in beta-glucans reduce the total and LDL cholesterol levels in subjects with high cholesterol. The beta-glucan content in milky oats is thought to have a similar effect on cholesterol levels.
A study involving 37 overweight adults found that supplementing with 1,500 mg of green oat extract improved blood flow in the heart and brain.
Rosemary Gladstar writes that milky oats are a “superior cardiac tonic,” and the Eclectic physicians recommend it for “cardiac weakness.” Gladstar also mentions that milky oats are good for “keeping cholesterol in check” and preventing plaque buildup in arteries.
The European Medicines Agency mentions that milky oats preparations are known to support cardiac complications and high cholesterol levels; however, more significant research is needed to confirm these therapeutic effects.
Summary:A variety of clinical trials show that milky oats may work to promote cardiovascular health.
7. Other Benefits
Other purported milky oats health benefits include:
- May have Antispasmodic effects: Traditional accounts by Eclectic physicians suggest that milky oats have an antispasmodic effect on the body, specifically “the neck and bladder.” Herbalist Maude Grieve (1931) also suggests milky oats for spasms. The EMA recommends a topical application of milky oats for muscle spasms.
- May Boost Libido: Rosemary Gladstar mentions that milky oats are used to treat stress-related sexual disorders. She also writes that they’re known to boost libido and may be the reason behind the old saying, “sow your oats.”
Summary:Milky oats have been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Milky Oats Safety:
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Milky oats are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
The Botanical Safety Handbook (2013) states that there have been no side effects or drug interactions noted with milky oats. However, it is recommended to conduct a skin patch test to check for an allergic reaction.
Various governmental organizations, including Germany’s Commision E, have recommended the use of milky oats for various disorders, including sleep, skincare, and mental health.
Consult a medical practitioner if you want to include a milky oat supplement in your daily routine.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
There are no trials on the safety of using milky oats while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Although there isn’t sufficient data on pregnancy & lactation with milky oats, traditional accounts and herbalist, Robin Rose Bennett, mention that the consumption and topical application of milky oats and ripe oats is safe and supportive for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and babies.
Standard dosing for milky oats is as follows:
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1-3 teaspoons of dried herb and allow to infuse for 10-15 minutes in a covered cup (to capture the beneficial essential oils). Drink 1 cup 3x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 3-5ml, 3x/day.
Fluid Extract (1:1): 0.6 to 2 ml, 3x/day.
Bath: In a full bath, add 100g of dried herb (in a muslin bag or free-floating) and let the herb soak for 15 minutes before getting in.
Neuravena® (“green” oat extract supplementation): 800 mg/day
Milky oats are not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and are not considered impacted by human activities.
Oat is one of the leading crops in Poland, Finland, Millennia, Russia, Canada, and the US. It is a main crop in Germany.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Milky oats’ scientific name is Avena sativa, which refers to the entire “common oat” plant. There are around 30 different oat species; however, Avena sativa is the most cultivated species for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Avena fatua is the “wild oat” species which is medicinally interchangeable with Avena sativa.
Avena sativa is in the Poaceae family (i.e flowering grass) and is considering a cultivated annual crop. The name “Avena” stems from the Sanskrit word “avi” (sheep) or “avasa” (foodstuff).
Oats are one of the oldest and toughest annual crops known to civilization. Native to Europe, the Mediterranean, northern Central Asia, and North Africa, oats have grown in popularity and use and are now cultivated worldwide.
The milky oat stage is when the plant finishes flowering and the seeds start to produce. The pods will appear green and weep a milky “sap” when squeezed. It’s important to check on plants during this phase, as the “milky” phase only lasts about a week.
Herbalists recommend preparing the unripe milky oats immediately to take advantage of the highly medicinal “sap.”
Common names of oat include Oats, Groats, Oatmeal, Catgrass, Avena, Oat Straw, and Green Oat.
Other oat species include:
- Avena byzantine (Red oat)
- Avena steriles (Wild Red oat)
- Avena wiestii (Desert oat)
- Avena abyssinica, Avena wiestii (Abyssinian oat)
- And Avena fatua (Wild oat)
History & Traditional Use:
The oat plant, Avena sativa, has been used and cultivated for millennia, starting in the Fertile Crescent as the wild species Avena sterilis. Unripe milky oats were used for medicinal purposes, and the ripe “seed,” or oat, was used in various cuisines, animal feed, and medicine.
The use of oats in baths dates back to 2000 BC in ancient Egypt and Arabia. The wild oat plant was eventually domesticated and used across the globe as medicine and a secondary food crop behind wheat and barley.
In England and Scotland, oats were a culinary staple, and the first oat bread was produced in the UK. In England, oats were primarily given to horses before they became an essential part of the human diet.
In the 19th century, the Eclectic Physicians described oat-grain “in the milk” stage as one of the most restorative herbs for the nervous system. It was also used for cardiac conditions, insomnia, and “[s]pasmodic conditions of the neck of the bladder.”
The oat plant and unripe milky oat pods are highly versatile. They’re considered a popular culinary and medicinal herb cross-culturally.
Using milky oats as an infusion, tincture, bath, or edible herb is recommended.
If you are considering oats for medicinal use, make sure to look for unripe milky oat pods, since that’s when they have the highest amount of active constituents.
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