Over the last few weeks I’ve had quite a few patients coming in feeling a bit more stressed, anxious, and sleep deprived as usual.

Surely there’s a lot going on ‘out there’ both politically and economically, and the unseasonably warm weather was a bit of an adjustment to a system that’s geared for Winter. And of course come July we’ll all remember how nice San Francisco Winters are!

So taking all this into consideration, this month I wanted to shine a spotlight on one of the most effective calming herbs for the nervous system making it a great herbal remedy for stress and insomnia.
Many herbalists will say that their herb of choice for nervous system nourishment is oat straw (Avena Sativa).

Western and eastern medicine both state that oats are great for physical health, which is probably why so many diets include oats as a suggestion for a healthy breakfast.

However the oat straw (the leafy sheafs and stalks that cover the oats and which are often thrown away) is the part of the plant that contains the highest concentrations of bio-active aminos and polyphenols believed to support brain function, support sleep and reduce levels of anxiety.

Exactly how oat straw works is one of nature’s mysteries. However it seems to provide deep nourishment in a way our bodies can easily assimilate and use.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, consuming oat straw alleviates conditions related to anxiety, mood imbalance, and sleep. Some of the many reported benefits of oat straw include: calming and strengthening the nervous system; nourishing and circulating Qi; relieving stress and calming emotions; reducing depression; enhancing clear thinking; aiding digestion and stabilizing blood sugar; reducing inflammation; nourishing the heart and circulatory system; and encouraging a deep and restful sleep.

Interestingly some of the key Western actions and medicinal (biochemical) uses for oat straw are as an antioxidant and anti-depressant; as a rich source of carbohydrates; lowering cholesterol and blood sugar; preventing heart disease; increasing blood flow to the brain (via increased nitric oxide synthesis); and stimulating estrogen.

Oat straw is a deeply nourishing herb filled with vitamins and minerals. It’s a herb that works immediately but is most effective if used regularly over time helping to strengthen those who may be sleep deprived, exhausted, weak or anxious.

If you’re experiencing a feeling of being overwhelmed or of things being too much (like many of my patients at the moment), consider picking up some oat straw at your local herb store. Here in the city, Rainbow Grocery and Scarlett Sage Herb Store will carry it.

The best way to prepare oat straw is as a tea or infusion:

To make an oat straw herbal infusion, place a cup of the dried herb into a quart mason jar. Fill it with boiling water, put a lid on it, and let it steep for 4-8 hours. (Making a herbal infusion before bed and letting it steep overnight is an excellent way to extract the nourishment from the dried herb).
If you like, you can add a pinch of mint or licorice root for flavor. Then strain out the plant material, compost it, and enjoy one or more cups of the liquid daily. Infusions are delicious warm or cold and can be sweetened with honey or any other natural sweetener. They keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

Oat straw has been used in herbalist traditions for hundreds of years. No drug interactions or side effects have been reported. However some people with allergies or severe gluten sensitivity should avoid oat straw. However, typically oat straw can be tolerated by people who are sensitive to gluten, especially if the manufacturer can guarantee that there was no contact with other grains such as wheat.

Overall oat straw may be a perfect way to become more resilient to stress, soothe our nerves and help us get more in touch with ourselves and others. Enjoy!