Materia Medica - Milky Oats



Milky oats are one of the most popular anti-stress tonics in herbal medicine today. They are unique because they both calm and energize. They ease physical and mental exhaustion while encouraging a deep, restful sleep.

Milky oats support strong nerves, more focused thinking, balanced hormones, and healthy sexuality. They build sustained long-term energy by supporting and nourishing the endocrine and nervous systems.

Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Avena sativa

Common Name(s): Milky oats, Oats, Oat tops

TCM Name:  Yan Mai

Ayurvedic Name(s): n/a

Family: Poaceae (grasses and cereal grains)

Physical Description of the Plant: Erect tufted annual grass, typically grows 0.9 m (3ft) by 0.1 m (4in) tall; leaves are alternate, lineal-lanceolate, plain, rough, 0.4-1cm wide, 15-30cm long. Short ligules with inflorescences, which are 15-25cm long terminal panicles, with 2cm long spikelets with 2 flowers each.

Habitat: Oats are descended from A. sterilis, a wild oat that spread from the Fertile Crescent (a region spreading from Israel to western Iran) to Europe. It was domesticated about 3,000 years ago, in the wetter, colder conditions of Europe, in which oats thrive,. Oats are very easy to grow in ordinary garden soil, and are now cultivated in temperate zones of Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America. It is in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen from August to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Wind. The plant is self-fertile.

Harvest and Collection: Harvest the tops by stripping the seed pods from the stems when they exude “milk” when squeezed.

Parts of the Plant Used: Unripe seeds harvested in their milky stage (when full of a white milky fluid, before they become “oats”) and preserved fresh, usually in alcohol. 

Qualities: Milky Oats are known as a nervine and a trophorestorative (a deeply nutritive restorative) for the nervous and endocrine systems. When used in the “milky” stage they feed nervous tissue and help to restore normal nerve function and vitality. As a very calming and soothing herb oats are also useful for sleep issues and insomnia, or any kind of mental or physical agitation.

Energetics: Neutral to Warm, Moist

Taste: Sweet

Chemical Constituents: The milky stage is when the alkaloids, flavanoids, sililic acid, proteins, B vitamins and calcium levels in the oat grain head are particularly high.

  • Alkaloids

  • B-complex

  • Beta-glucans

  • Calcium

  • Carotene

  • Flavonoids

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Manganese

  • Potassium

  • Protein

  • Saponins

  • Silica

  • Soluble fiber

  • Steroidal compounds

  • Vitamins D & E

  • Zinc



  • Antispasmodic

  • Nervous and endocrine restorative

  • Nutritive tonic

  • Relaxant and stimulant nervine

  • Sedative

Eastern: Warming and Moistening. Nourish Qi, Increase Blood, Essence, and Qi. Promote Bone Growth, Lift Spirit, Benefit Skin (both chronic conditions and relieve frostbite), Restore Heart. Ciruclate Qi, Relax Nerves, Free Spasms, Relieve Pain and Induce Rest. Yin tonic, Kidney yin and Essence tonic.

Meridians: Spleen, Kidney

Indications: Nervous exhaustion, often with an underlying sense of depression, a slow but steady lessening of interest in life, sometimes complicated by a deep seated emotional sadness, feelings of loss and unresolved grief. Depressive states arising out of pushing through workload on the job or at home. The edginess and frayed-end feeling of kicking nicotine, opiate or alcohol habits.

Contraindications/Cautions: Milky oats are safe for everyone, including babies and pregnant or nursing mothers. They could possibly be problematic for those who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease if oats are cross-contaminated by wheat.

Drug Interactions: None known.


Tincture: 1-2  dropperfuls up to 3x day taken for at least three months for long-term benefits (increase to 3-5 dropperfulls as needed).

Infusion: 2-3TBS of tops should be brewed daily as tea.

Combinations: Use milky oats with other nervines such as passionflower for stress and anxiety relief. Milky oats also combine well with adaptogenic herbs like American ginseng and ashwagandha, especially for adrenal burnout with insomnia, nervousness, inability to focus, lack of libido and sensory hypersensitivity. Skullcap is also quite specific for sensory hypersensitivity but Milky Oats excels where the sense of touch is the most sensitive aspect. Skullcap and Milky Oats also combine exceptionally well for a great many cases of nervous exhaustion.

Combine with Nettle Seeds when there’s exhaustion to the point of chronic fatigue and ongoing lack of vital energy. A combination of Peach twig and Milky Oats is fabulous for can’t relax type A people who really need some nourishment and chill out time.

Folklore: Ancient legend says that Gaia herself was weaned on the milk of this flowering plant. 

 Flower Essence: Oat flower essence brings a feeling of stability during times of uncertainty and dissatisfaction. This essence is also called the Vocation essence, as it can help those who feel distracted or distanced from their life purpose or confused about the nature of their path, next step, or greater calling. Often indicated for those who feel consistently restless or dissatisfied with their life. Oat essence shows you the uniqueness of your path and helps you to invoke and appreciate work as an expression of your true spirit and inner calling. A clearing of purpose and conviction, this essence is wonderful for those graduating from school, stagnating in a limiting or boring vocation, or perhaps even experiencing a mid-life crisis.

Applications: Avena is quite helpful helpful where there is mental and physical exhaustion along with inability to focus, heart palpitations, loss of libido, irritability and addiction issues. It nourishes and soothes the nervous system, helping to overcome anxiety, grief, and panic disorders. Milky oats can reduce PMS symptoms, such as insomnia and cramps. Some women report they ease menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness or mild anxiety. It is a profound restorative for the nervous and endocrine systems which are so easily depleted by a stressful lifestyle and bad diet.


City-Dweller’s Tonic Tea

1 cup Oat Tops
½ cup Linden
1-2 Tbsp. Lavender

Mix together all the herbs. Add ¼ cup of this blend to a glass quart jar. Cover with boiled water, cap, and let steep overnight, or at least 6 hours. Strain and drink at room temperature, or gently re-heat. 

Scientific Research: 

Research shows milky oats increase sexual energy and performance for men and women. A study done by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human with milky oats showed a significant increase in orgasms for men and women along with more pleasure and sexual desire. For women, milky oats calm and relax mental stress, a major libido blocker. For men, they encourage blood flow for healthy erectile function and sexual performance. Milky oats may also free up bound testosterone, which increases with age and depresses libido.












Mimi Alberu