Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Avena Sp. - Oats

Stem: erect, 1-6, ± glabrous.
Leaf: basal and cauline; ligule 2-5 mm, membranous, rounded at tip; blade flat.
Inflorescence: panicle-like, open.
Spikelet: 15-50 mm, laterally compressed, generally stalked, ± pendent; glumes unequal or ± equal, generally > florets, membranous, 3-11-veined, generally glabrous; axis occasionally prolonged behind upper floret, vestigial floret at tip; florets (1)2-6(8), 2+ bisexual, reduced florets distal to proximal ones, breaking above glumes and between florets or not; lemma hard, glabrous to hairy below awn, awned at or slightly below middle, 5-9-veined, tip 2-forked, forks ± tooth-like, awn stiff, generally bent, slightly to often strongly coiled below bend; palea ± < lemma; anthers 3.
Fruit: cylindric, longitudinally grooved, pubescent.
29 species: temperate Europe, northern Africa, central Asia. (Latin: oats) [Baum 2007 FNANM 24:734-739] Cult for grain, hay. California records of Avena strigosa Schreb. are based on misidentifications of Avena barbata. California records of Avena occidentalis Durieu, are based on a misidentification of Avena fatua.[Jepson]

Local Species;

  1. Avena fatua - Wild Oat [PCBC][E-flora]
  2. Avena sativa - Common Oat [PCBC][E-flora]

1. Callus glabrous; florets remaining attached at maturity; lemma glabrous or nearly so, awn of lower floret generally 0(15) mm ..... Avena sativa
1' Callus bearded; florets falling singly or as a unit at maturity; lemma densely strigose or soft hairy, especially below, awned

2' Lemma tip ragged or 2-forked, teeth <= 1.5 mm
3. Florets falling separately from glumes; awn of lowest floret 25-40 mm; leaf margin glabrous ..... Avena fatua [Jepson]

Immature Oat Seed
"One of the safest and most popular nervines is Avena spp. (oat) immature or milky seed, a Poaceae family member native to Asia and now spread globally in temperate climates. The seed is very distinct from the largely lifeless oat straw or stem. Immature oat seed is prescribed for acute and chronic anxiety, stress and excitation, neurasthenic and pseudoneurasthenic syndromes, skin diseases, connective tissue deficiencies, and weakness of the bladder, and as a tonic and roborant. The German Commission E, however, concluded that its effectiveness for these conditions had not been established.9 The Eclectics considered tincture of oat seed to be a mild stimulant and nerve tonic, and many Eclectics considered it of some importance for nervous debility and for affections bordering closely upon ner vous prostration. It was deemed useful for headaches from exhaustion or overwork or the ner vous headache of menstruation. But they cautioned that it was not a remedy of great power and would not always be useful. They did not consider its use in morphine addiction to be substantiated.10
Many Western herbalists prefer to use oat seed tincture as a simple to quiet temporary, mild anxiety or to take the edge off moods that might otherwise express themselves as angry outbursts or loss of self- control. We have also used it in pet dogs to calm and avert seizures. Oat seed tincture is frequently included as an ingredient in formulas intended to help patients quit cigarette smoking. This aspect of oats has been the subject of some research, mostly with negative results.11,12 These results mirror the conclusion of the Eclectics: oat seed is not strong enough to have a substantial effect on serious addictions like cigarette smoking, although its calming effect may be somewhat helpful as a component of a treatment for these addictions. It is, however, safe for use in essentially anyone, with no known contraindications (except that some patients with celiac disease cannot tolerate it), adverse effects, or interactions." [CBMed]


"Oats (Avena spp.) synthesize a family of four related antifungal triterpenoid saponins, avenacins A-1, B-1, A-2 and B-2, that accumulate in the roots [18,19]. The major oat root saponin avenacin A-I (Fig. I) is localized in the root epidermis [20], and is likely to present a protective barrier to infection of oats by saponin-sensitive fungi." [Oleszek, SIF]

Other (non-local) Species

"Four minor cultivated species derived from wild forms of Avena strigosa grow in the western Mediterranean. Bristle oat, A. strigosa, is a fodder plant in central and northern Europe, still grown Grains in the Shetland Islands but almost extinct. A. brevis and A. hispanica are now very rare crops of southwest Europe. A. nuda is a naked form of oat that threshes free of the tough husk. It has low yields and is not widely cultivated." [Prance TCHP]

Wild Oat - Avena fatua

Family: Grasses- Poaceae Family

Habitat / Range
Dry to mesic fields and waste areas in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; infrequent in S BC; introduced from Eurasia. [IFBC-E-flora]

Range: "Wild Oat, Avena fatua, a native of Europe, now found in fields and waste places in the Middle West and especially abundant on the Pacific Coast" [EWP]



General: Annual grass from fibrous roots; stems hollow, up to 80 cm tall. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Sheaths open; blades 3-10 (15) mm wide, rough and often more or less soft-hairy; ligules (1) 3-6 mm long, membranous, short-hairy, rounded to pointed, the margins jagged and fringed with small hairs. [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: Inflorescence a large, open panicle, the branches pendulous; spikelets usually with 3 florets, in addition to the rudiments tipping the prolonged rachilla, the lower 2 florets with much twisted, strongly bent awns up to 4 cm long; glumes 20-25 mm long, more or less equal, both usually surpassing the florets; lemmas hardened at the base, the nerves obscure, usually stiff-hairy or nearly smooth, the upper portions greenish and plainly ribbed, the tips thin and membranous and sharply bilobed for about 1 mm, the calluses densely bearded; rachilla readily disarticulating between the florets, strongly bearded or sometimes nearly smooth; anthers 4-5 mm long; lodicules nearly 2 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses



Common Oat - Avena sativa

Family: Grasses - Poaceae Family

Habitat / Range
Dry to mesic fields, roadsides, railways and waste areas in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; infrequent in S BC; introduced from Eurasia. [IFBC-E-flora]

A. dispermis, A. distans, A. cinerea, A. anglica, A. algeriensis. [PFAF][E-flora]

General: Annual grass from fibrous roots; stems hollow, up to 100 cm tall. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Sheaths open; blades flat; ligules 2-4 mm long, membranous, short-hairy, rounded, the margins finely jagged and fringed with small hairs. [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: Inflorescence a large, open panicle, the branches pendulous; spikelets usually with 2 or sometimes, 3 florets; glumes 20-25 mm long, about equal, both usually surpassing the florets; lemmas lanceolate, the lower lemmas with awns arising just above the middle, the awns straight to slightly twisted or curved, up to 15 mm longer than the lemmas, the upper lemma awnless; lemmas much hardened and smooth to above midlength, the upper portions thickened, greenish and prominently ribbed, entire or very shallowly bilobed at the tips, the calluses smooth or sparsely bearded; rachillas not readily disarticulating between the florets, smooth or sparsely stiff-hairy, firm; anthers 3-4 mm long; lodicules linear, about 1.8 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


European History: "Oats are descended from A. sterilis, a wild oat that spread as a weed of wheat and barley from the Fertile Crescent to Europe. In the wetter, colder conditions of Europe, in which oats thrive, it was domesticated about 3000 years ago, and soon became an important cereal in its own right on the cooler fringes of Europe. In medieval Britain oats were widely grown for bread, biscuits, and malting, but they now hold their importance only in the wetter parts of northern Europe. Oats are still an important food in Scotland, where uses include porridge, oatcakes, and the filling for haggis. Oats have also had an important role since the Roman period as feed for horses. British emigrants introduced oat cultivation to North America in the 17th century, but they have always been a minor cereal outside Europe. " [Prance TCHP]

Forms of Consumption


Select Indications (Oats) -

  • Anxiety (f; APA; PHR; PH2; WAM); [HMH Duke]
  • Dermatosis (2; APA; KOM; PH2; WAM); [HMH Duke]
  • Diabetes (f; APA; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Enterosis (f; APA; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • High Cholesterol (2; APA; PH2; SHT); [HMH Duke]
  • Insomnia (f; APA; PHR; PH2; SKY); [HMH Duke]
  • Itch (2; APA; KOM); [HMH Duke]
  • Nephrosis (f; APA; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Nervousness (f; APA; SKY); [HMH Duke]
  • Neurasthenia (f; APA; BGB; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Nicotinism (f; APA; SKY); [HMH Duke]
  • Ophthalmia (f; PHR); [HMH Duke]
  • Poison Ivy (f; APA); [HMH Duke]
  • Rheumatism (f; APA; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Seborrhea (2; BGB; KOM; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Wart (2; PHR; PH2). [HMH Duke]


Select Activities (Oats) -

  • Antidepressant (1; PNC); [HMH Duke]
  • Antiinflammatory (2; BGB; KOM); [HMH Duke]
  • Antiprostaglandin (1; PHR; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Antiviral (f; BGB); [HMH Duke]
  • Cardiotonic (f; PNC); [HMH Duke]
  • Digestive (1; WAM); [HMH Duke]
  • Diuretic (f; PED); [HMH Duke]
  • Emollient (1; APA; PNC; WAM); [HMH Duke]
  • Fungicide (1; BGB); [HMH Duke]
  • Hepatoprotective (1; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Hypocholesterolemic (1; APA; PH2; SHT); [HMH Duke]
  • Hypouricemic (1; PH2); [HMH Duke]
  • Immunostimulant (1; BGB); [HMH Duke]
  • Nervine (1; APA; WAM); [HMH Duke]
  • Osteoprotectant (1; PED); [HMH Duke]
  • Sedative (f; APA; SKY); [HMH Duke]
  • Thymoleptic (f; PNC); [HMH Duke]
  • Tonic (f; PH2). [HMH Duke]







Steroid Saponins

This grain seed contains 4 to 8% of lipid, though somewhat more in certain strains. The major component acids are palmitic, oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acid ... It is reported to show cholesterolemic and antithrombotic activity, and is used as an appetite suppressant in “Olibra”, used in cosmetics by virtue of its glycolipids, and can be used in baking, increasing loaf volume at levels as low as 0.5%.... The phytosterols have been detailed by Jiang and Wang (2005). [CRC TLHB]


"Oats are an easily grown crop that succeeds in any moderately fertile soil in full sun[200]. They prefer a poor dry soil[134] and tolerate cool moist conditions[13]. Plants are reported to tolerate an annual precipitation of 20 to 180cm, an average annual temperature range of 5 to 26oC, and a pH of 4.5 to 8.6[269]. They thrive on a wide range of soils of ample, but not excessive, fertility[269]. Well-drained neutral soils in regions where annual rainfall is 77cm or more are best[269]. Loam soils are best, especially silt and clay loams[269]. The plants are also reported to tolerate aluminium, disease, frost, fungus, herbicides, hydrogen fluoride, mycobacterium, nematode, rust, SO2, smut, and virus[269]. Oats have a long history of cultivation as a food crop and are believed to be derived chiefly from two species, wild oat (A. fatua L.) and wild red oat (A. sterilis L.)[269]. They are widely cultivated for their seed, used as a source of protein, as well as for hay, as winter cover, and are used as a pasture crop in the growing or 'milk' stage[269]. Oats are long-day plants, grown in cool climates in the Old and New World temperate zones, succeeding under variable conditions[269]. Oats usually are not very winter hardy, although winter hardy cvs have been developed[269]. A very hardy plant according to another report, the cultivated oat succeeds as far north as latitude 70on[142] and is widely cultivated in temperate zones for its edible seed, there are many named varieties[183]. Although lower yielding than wheat (Triticum spp.), it is able to withstand a wider range of climatic conditions and is therefore more cultivated in cooler and wetter areas[13]. Hot dry weather just before heading causes heads to blast and yields of seed to decrease[269]. Self-pollination is normal, but cross-pollination by wind also occurs[269]. If you wish to save the seed for sowing, each variety should be isolated about 180 metres away from other varieties[269]. Oats grow well with vetch but they inhibit the growth of apricot trees[18, 201]. Oats are in general easily grown plants but, especially when grown on a small scale, the seed is often completely eaten out by birds. Some sort of netting seems to be the best answer on a garden scale." [PFAF]

Cultivation in Peru

"...oats is a cultivated European grain that was not greatly accepted into the folk agriculture of the valley, even though yields in test plots prove that the valley has ecological conditions favorable for it. Near the limits of agriculture some estate owners raise forage oats (avena forrajera) to feed to their horses. Occasionally peasants cultivate oats on land ordinarily devoted to wheat or barley. The oats are dried on racks near their huts and the grain is used in soups and the stalks used as fodder. Perhaps because they are difficult to prepare for human consumption oats are only infrequently grown today in the valley, although since 1964, more land is devoted to this crop. The only oats that many people in Southern Peru know are American or Canadian rolled oats which are sold in tins in some of the larger towns, and 'Quaker' has become the nominal term for oats." [Gade PMLP]


"The most specialized and dangerous pathogen is G. graminis var. tritici, which causes take-all and whiteheads in wheat and barley crops; var. avenae can attack oat crops as well. The fungus infects the cereal root-system from inocula lying in the soil and by ectotrophic growth along the roots eventually reaches the crown, consisting of the attached tiller-bases with their crown roots. F. culmorum, Curvularia ramosa and Cochliobolus sativus form a group of unspecialized pathogens infecting both young roots and senescent roots, though they lack the ability for continuous, ectotrophic spread over the cereal root system that is possessed by G. graminis (Fig. 16, Ch. 9). They can cause seedling blight of cereals, but infection of older plants, which may be directly through the crown tissue from the surrounding soil, appears to be restricted to certain soil and environmental conditions that predispose the cereal plants to such infections." [Garrett SFSF]





Page last modified on Sunday, March 11, 2018 4:04 PM