Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The plant of the day (Messidor 2) in the French Republican calendar is Oats (Avoine in French).
I’ve been fascinated by finding representatives of the grains growing all around my block ever since I took up the practice of gathering wild grains on August 15th in honor of Our Lady of the Harvest. I learned to identify wheat, oats and rye, with the help of a verse from the folk ballad, “The Ripe and Bearded Barley,” which I included in my Lammas and Harvest holiday packets. Here's the relevant verse
The wheat is like a rich man,
It's sleek and well-to-do.
The oats are like a pack of girls
They're thin and dancing, too,
The rye is like a miser,
Both sulky, lean and small,
While the ripe and bearded barley
Is the monarch of them all.
I haven’t found any barley growing on my block but I have found wheat, rye and oats and of them all, the oats are most like dancing girls. They’re delicate, flexible and responsive to the slightest bit of wind or movement. Susun Weed says oats are best identified by their “hanging, swaying seed heads; large milky grain; the sigh the wind makes in her hair.” She quotes E. Anderson: “Their graceful open tassels shake in the wind…glisten in the sun…give the coastal breezes their distinctive sound…a rustle as of stiff silk petticoats.”
Interestingly enough, in all my books on herbs and plants, I only found three writers who write about oats: the inimitable Susun Weed, and two medieval herbalists: Gerard and Culpeper.
After Susun Weed harvest oats, she spreads them out to dry, but not in the sun where they will become brittle. She wants them to retain their green color and some of the green seeds. When dry, the stalks will snap easily. She stores it, as unbroken as possible, in brown paper bags and uses it to make tea. The hollow stalks are known as oatstraw while the seed heads are oats. But Weed says they have similar properties. Oatstraw is lower in calories and higher in vitamin A and C than the grain. Both are soothing and nourishing. Drinking the tea or eating oatmeal helps you develop a strong nervous system and a juicy endocrine system. They also ease cramps, reduce inflammation, strengthen the heart and liven up your libido (as in “feeling your oats” or “sowing wild oats”). Weed has a whole chapter about oats and oatstraw plus many recipes and an oat meditation in her wonderful book, Healing Wise, available from Ash Tree Publishing at:
Here are some ways to get familiar with oats:
Susun Weed suggests putting a handful of oatmeal into a fine cloth and soaking it in warm water (taking it into the bath with you will do, squeezing now and then until the milky white oat cream appears. This can be used as cleansing rub, skin softener, complexion treatment and itch reliever. A similar treatment was used in the 17th century for getting rid of freckles.
The 17th century herbalist Gerard recommends putting oatmeal into a cloth, adding a bit of bay salt and heating it in a frying pan. This takes away a stitch in the side.
And here’s my favorite recipe for morning oatmeal (I just went and set this up for tomorrow morning): Put one cup of oatmeal (the heartier the better—I think instant oatmeal would get too soggy if prepared this way—I use steel cut oatmeal) in a pan. Cover with two cups of water. Cover and leave out on the stove overnight. In the morning, bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes, then reduce heat and cook for five to ten minutes more until the oats have congealed. I like to embellish my oats with raisins, butter, brown sugar or cream (and sometimes all of the above) but you can add more healthful things as well, like the sesame seeds, plantain seeds and slippery elm that Susun Weed recommends.
Chelsie Vandaveer, as usual, has a good article on oats and links to a scholarly article on oats history and some wonderful photos from a Swedish site:
A great picture of oats compared to other grains:
Information and picture from Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom:
Wonderful photograph showing the delicacy and grace of oats: