Avena fatua L.


Poaceae (Grass Family)




Wild Oat   

                                       January Photo


Plant Characteristics: Annual, culms stout, to 1.9 m. tall; blades 4-8 mm. wide; panicle loose, open, with horizontal branches; spikelets usually 3-fld.; florets readily falling from glumes; glumes ca. 2.5 cm. long, 5-7 veined, the rachilla and lower part of the lemma with long stiff, mostly brownish hairs; lemmas nerved above, ca. 2 cm. long, generally glabrous on back to soft-hairy in lower third, with acuminate teeth; awn stout, geniculate, twisted below, 3-4 cm. long.


Habitat:  Waste and cultivated places as a common weed in California Floristic Province. April-June.


Name:  Latin, avena, an old name for oats and fatuus, simple.  (Jaeger 32,101).  John Johnson suggests that Linnaeus possibly chose the name because of the simple structure of the spikelets and inflorescence.  Johnson used this plant to teach grass structure because of its simplicity.


General:  Very common in the study area.  Photographed on the west side of the Delhi Ditch.  (my comments).      Wild Oats, possibly introduced by the Spanish with wheat seed brought to the Missions.  (Heizer & Elsasser 38).      Wild Oats were gathered by California. Indian tribes and made into meal.  The seeds were crushed lightly to loosen the chaff, which was winnowed out and then ground into meal.  (Clarke 202).      It has great value as a forage plant; in certain parts of the State it yields a considerable amount of wild hay.  However, the plant is often troublesome as a weed in grain fields.  Wild Oats grows on many different types of soil such as clay loam, sandy loam and stiff adobe.  (Robbins et al. 57).      To clean Wild Oats, parch the seeds in a basket using a hot stone.  (lecture by Charlotte Clarke, author of Useful and Edible Plants of California, April 1987.       Used for indigestion and constipation by taking a tablespoon of oatmeal and stirring it slowly in a pint of boiling water for about five minutes, adding a little salt to suit the taste.  One herbal recommends this drink for persons "who seek to retain their youth."  The use of honey to sweeten the drink is permissible.  The drink is recommended as a splendid tonic to the general system and is stated to be beneficial to the sexual system.  A poultice of oatmeal helps relieve itchy skin and ulcers and is reported to be used extensively in relieving sore conditions in the area of the anus and to dissolve hard formations.  Oatmeal has many elements that have antiseptic properties, and when taken frequently as a food, is a natural preventative for contagious diseases.  Other uses for oats include its use as a nerve tonic, as a restorative in nervous prostration and following exhaustion as a result of diseases accompanied by fever.  The presence of phosphorus in oats makes this product valuable for the formation of brain and nerve tissue.  An authoritative work on herbs states that oats "seem to exert a very beneficial action upon the heart muscles." Oats have been recommended for relieving spasmodic conditions of the bladder and ureter.  Because of the beneficial effects upon the nervous system, the consumption of oats in the form of oatmeal or as a fluid extract has been reported to facilitate sleep.  It has been reported that boiling oats in vinegar and then applying the resulting oatmeal mash to the face or other parts of the body will remove spots.  One of the effects of oats is reported as beneficial in cases of involuntary loss of seminal fluid.  (Kadans 156-158).      Oats aggravates acne.  Reported by dermatologists who advise acne patients to avoid oats in any form.  (John Johnson).      Avena species have been known to cause hay fever and asthma.  (Fuller 383).       Brassica nigra has been shown to be markedly toxic to the common annual grasses such as Wild Oat, Avena fatua, and species of Bromus.  Water soluble plant toxins are produced from the dead plant material of B. Nigra.  (Fuller 365).      The Cahuillas, who inhabited the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains and the Colorado Desert, used A. fatua.   While not native, this plant was introduced as early as 1835, the seeds were gathered from July through September, parched, ground in flour, and mixed with other wild seeds in mush.  Wild oats are still used as a breakfast food by some Cahuilla and are believed to contribute to high energy.  (Bean and Saubel 46).       Delfina Cuero, a Kumeyaay or Southern Diegueno Indian made the following comment about Avena fatua in her autobiography:  "Kumeyaay collected the seeds and ground them for pinole."  (Shipek 86).    Wild Oats has many medicinal uses including use as a tonic, laxative and nerve stimulant.  It is used in chorea, epilepsy and nervous exhaustion.   The semimatured grain, when in “milk” is collected and the unripe-seed tincture prepared.  Method A (1 part by weight of the fresh plant, just gathered and rinsed, chop into small pieces, place in a clean glass jar with a good lid, cover the chopped herbs with 2 parts of 95% ethanol, screw on the lid after making sure the herbs are compressed enough in the jar that the alcohol comes up to the top of the chopped herb. Set aside for 7 to 10 days). Since this is the only form in which the medicine works, if you live where no 95% alcohol is available to you, use 50% vodka (100 proof but only 50% alcohol).   A. sativa can be used in the same manner, however A. barbata does not make good medicine. (Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West 129).        Hybridizes with A. sativa and A. sterilis.  (Hickman, Ed. 1236).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 1236; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 947; Robbins et al. 57; Roberts 45.

Photo Ref:  Jan 2 84 #2,3,4.

Identity: by R. De Ruff.

First Found:  January 1984.


Computer Ref:  Plant Data 39.

Have plant specimen.

Last edit 11/26/04.  


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