The wheel turns and the fall equinox is upon us; the half way point between the summer and winter solstice, the threshold of long nights, cold mornings and heavy quilts. Here is a moment of stillness and an opportunity to look back at where we have come from in the busy work of summer, and forward into the mellowing of autumn. As the nights come noticeably early now and there is a great energizing force to fill the pantry and root cellar for the coming cold, the equinox provides an opportunity to take stock. We prioritize the things that still need to be done while pausing to listen to the wild heart-song of the geese leaving and to ponder places that may be in need of more balance. Balance both in our own hearts and lives, and in the world.
This time of year always fills me with a sense of gratitude. There is something deeply comforting about the familiar landmarks of the changing season; a trust in the rhythms of the natural world that continue to hold us, to shape our lives.
And while we are entering a time of turning inward and seeking balance, I am also acutely aware of the ways the world feels so terribly out of balance and the need for us to stay focused and committed. There is a deep well of grief where the seasons are no longer so dependable, and weather becomes increasingly erratic and harsh. I don't intend to list here the great fear, the many disasters and losses we are bearing witness to. But I do want to share my endless gratitude for the clear and articulate courage and rage of Greta Thunberg as she addresses the world, along with all of the people, especially young people who are leading the climate strikes this week and speaking up in this time when we desperately need a return to balance. May we all continue to find ways to participate, and may we be nourished along the way, both in the work towards justice, and the journey towards winter. So here we turn to the herb of this seasons musing: Milky Oats.
Avena sativa, commonly known as milky oats are the immature seed heads of a plant in the Poaceae or grass family. One of the things that I love so much about growing milky oats are the many layers of medicine. Oats are commonly used as a cover crop in agricultural production. Oats are fast and tall growing and are often seeded with a legume. The oats grow quickly, protecting a fallow field from being taken over by unwanted weeds in between plantings, and are then turned back into the soil acting as a green manure. The oat stubble also helps to prevent erosion. And then there's the beauty of going out to the field before the cover crop has been cut down, just when the oats are "milky" with basket in hand, collecting panicles of seeds for medicine for people, before the rest of the plant is returned as medicine for the soil.
Milky oats are considered a trophorestorative- meaning they help restore and support the integrity of the nervous system. This juicy nutritive plant is a great ally for anyone who feels exhausted and overworked. Call on this plant to help support you when you are feeling frazzled with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Milky oats are used in many nervous conditions including emotional sensitivity, anxiety, depression, burn out, fatigue and insomnia. With nourishing saponins, many minerals and vitamins including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other trace minerals, as well as B vitamins, milky oats calm the spirit while feeding and restoring balance to a depleted nervous system. They have been used to help increase concentration and focus, as well as stave off caffeine withdrawal headaches. Studies have shown that the use of milky oats have a positive impact on cognitive performance while having direct antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Herbal actions associated with milky oats include anti-inflammatory, demulcent, nervine, and nutritive.
Milky oats can be taken as a tincture as well as in a tea, and are generally considered a very safe herb. If you are going to make your own medicine with milky oats you want to be sure to harvest the oats when they are milky. You can test their ripeness by squeezing an individual grain and when it is ripe white milk will appear! Tincture the herb fresh and marvel at the milky change in your alcohol or vinegar, or dry the herb that was harvested while milky. I use a blender when making milky oat tincture in order to extract as much of the milky goodness as possible.
I love the milky oat harvest, it is one of my favorites. I love standing in a sea of green and feeling the seeds run through my fingers while the hills slowly change color and the bluejays jeer excitedly. I love this last great hurrah before the growing season is complete. I love harvesting among the subtle sounds of the transition from summer to fall, the turning point, the great preparation, the seed giving of its tender green milk before everything is cold and barren again. May you go into the autumn well nourished and with a sense of purpose and balance!