It’s a sunny and breezy afternoon here in Santa Cruz, perfect for a little stroll and a touch of wildcrafting. If you haven’t heard that term before, it’s what we call picking herbs growing the wild. Like most herbalists, I’m pretty cautious when it comes to collecting plants I’m going to use for medicine. I need to be certain that no one is spraying the area (or nearby) with pesticides or herbicides, I need to find a spot which isn’t likely to have been sprayed by passing dogs. I don’t want to pick close to a road and I’m ALWAYS mindful of the plants welfare - never taking more than a tiny percentage of what’s there. There are legal considerations too - if it’s private land, I’ll always ask first and on public property such as parks there are often rules against taking plants.
In an ideal world, I’d grow all my herbs. But today I wanted to collect some Wild Oats and since I’m not in possession of a sunny meadow to grow my own, the only way to collect them was, well, wild. There just happens to be a lovely open space with many meadows just near my house and at this time of year those meadows ripple in the breeze with the elegant chest-high stems of oats. So, what would you do?
Herbalists tend to get a little exercised about the best oat preparation. It’s widely agreed that the best is from the green, unripe seeds and some people like the green straw too. We mostly agree that the final tincture should be milky, and that means harvesting earlier in the season. As you can see from the picture, most were pretty fully ripe and I discovered that all the golden stems had shed their seeds to ensure a repeat performance next year. But in amongst the gold I spotted the almost invisibly fine green stems hanging heavy with their hairy seeds.
After a few minutes my brown paper bag was half full with seeds which I gently stripped from the wiry stems. Once home I popped them in the Vitamix (which is pricey, but a seriously useful piece of kit) with a decent amount of vodka, whizzed them up and poured the green, milky results into a mason jar. I topped it off with enough vodka to fully cover the green stuff and there it is in the cupboard. In two weeks time I’ll have a great Avena sativa tincture to dispense and enjoy.
And how will I use it? Well, Wild Oats is one of those herbs which no one shouts much about, but which is indispensable as part of a calming, nerve-restoring mix. Oats have the reputation of being a nervous system tonic, helping calm frazzled nerves during times of stress and anxiety. There’s a classic combination which teams it with Skullcap and Passionflower, which was so popular with the herbalists I used to work with at Napiers that we had it as a ready made blend - probably the only one we had in the dispensary. The combination is both powerful and gentle. Oats strengthen and restore the nervous system, Skullcap is the best anxiolytic, or anxiety calming, herb I know and Passionflower is a mild and gentle sedative. All three together will help a jumpy, tense and anxious individual find their way back to a state of calm and ease.
So, if there's a meadow near you, why not take a stroll and see what’s growing? Don’t forget to take a bag and make sure you have a decent amount of vodka at home (which is good advice for anyone, herbalist or not).