Oat straw, to ease your election fears

Our Zen gardener advises, "Drink until election day," but it's not what you think.
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Harvesting of oats in Jølster, Norway ca. 1890.

Our Zen gardener advises, "Drink until election day," but it's not what you think.

Two things can be found taped to the refrigerator door in my house. One is the latest dog-centric New Yorker cartoon. This week, the cartoon depicts two dogs. One is lying on a couch, face up, while the second dog, sitting on a chair in a most therapist-like fashion, says, "That's right — own your accidents." The second thing on my refrigerator is The Metta Sutra, or Teaching on Loving Kindness. Here is part of it:

This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and knows the path to peace ... (let him or her be) peaceful and calm and wise and skillful, not proud or demanding in nature ...

When I catch myself reading these words, I can feel myself breathing a little deeper, taking things a little slower, trusting the world a little more.

Unless it is a week before the election.

These days, peaceful and calm is about as far away as Mars. I'm worrying about the November 4th outcome, willing myself to believe that we'll all be okay no matter what. Mostly, though, I just want it to be over.

So does everyone else I know. They aren't peaceful and calm either.

Time to head for calming plants, the kinds that make great teas, by the gallons.

While there are plenty of herbs that can be calming at a time like this, good old oat straw is hard to beat. Somewhere back in time, oats unfairly lost ground in the minds of men. I think it started with Samuel Johnson, who defined oats as a "grain which in England is generally given to horses but in Scotland supports the people." That he wrote this in a dictionary meant that his personal opinion spread far and wide, denying folks the pleasures of oat straw tea when they might have been able to use it to get through, say, the plague years. Big mistake, that. Of all the cereal grains, oat ranks about the highest in protein, right up there with wheat. More than 14.5 percent, for those of us drawn to statistics. Oats are also at the top of their class when it comes to thiamine, calcium, and magnesium.

Oats can be grown in a garden. Best planted in early spring. Cold is okay. So is cloudy weather. Actually, a great way to tell if oats will grow in a garden is to watch how potatoes do. If they do well, you are on your way to sowing your own oats. Just dig up the dirt a little, spread seed in your own Johhny Appleseed way, and cover the seeds up with dirt again. Fertilize with kitchen scraps that have morphed into compost. Make sure to get as many weeds out of the plot as possible early on because once the oats start to grow, they will be nigh on impossible to reach. Water regularly.

Then watch the plants grow. As an aside, growing oats in strawberry patches is a tried-and-true way to grow your own mulch. You can cut down the plants when they've grown and just throw them over the strawberry plants in the late summer or early fall. When pats are ripe, the stalks can be cut down with a scythe and dried right there on the ground. At that point, stalks are ready to become tea, and the grain can be harvested for oatmeal or a favorite Irish Soda Bread recipe. People in the know tell me that the harvesting is easy. Grains just need to be heated for about an hour and a half at 180 degrees to make the hulls easier to beat off the oat groats. Kids' plastic bats work well here.

As for the stalks, they can be cut up into little bits, as small as you have patience for, later to be transformed into a calmer and more peaceful you.

Oat straw seems to zoom right in on stress and tension. It tastes a little like breakfast cereal and feels warm and comforting going down. I've sipped oat straw tea for days at a time with no side effects, but if you have any concerns, you can run the following recipe by a doctor, nutritionist, naturopath, or other herb-knowing person.

Recipe for oat straw tea

  1. Boil 4 cups of water.
  2. While water is boiling, put 2-4 teaspoons of oat straw into a glass container that is big enough to hold the water once it is boiled.
  3. When the water is boiled, pour it over the oat straw.
  4. Let it sit for ten minutes.
  5. Pour what now looks something like a tea through some sort of a sieve into your cup and start sipping.

Drink until election day.


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