The term ‘superfood’ is attached to many fad foods that are sought out from far corners of the world. Though they may be great sources of nutrition, they can be overpriced and sometimes unethically sourced. Be smarter and use the ‘superfoods’ you can find in your garden or kitchen cupboard. Oatmeal is one and I’m going to tell you how it can be used as a food, a medicine and a beauty product: the grain from this elegant grass is an all round superherb.
Oats as a food
Porridge oats grow on the oat plant (Avena sativa), a member of the grass family. Many people consider porridge as a bland and boring food and is disregarded amongst the more favoured foods. Not many people remember porridge fondly, rather as a breakfast they were made to eat as children. However, it is highly nutritious, there’s nothing like the internal radiator feeling you get from a morning bowl on a cold day. It contains high amounts of protein (12%) and fibre, which makes it an energy powerhouse and gives it a low Glycemic Index (GI - meaning it releases its energy slowly), so it will keep you going until lunch. It is even gluten free (if bought from factories that don’t use the same machinery to process wheat). Oats also contain iron, manganese, zinc and B-vitamins which are essential for lots of body processes, but help to keep bones and nervous system.
Some say oat nibs, which are the unrolled, ‘whole’ version of oats are the best type to use. I like a mix or whole and rolled. Spice up boring porridge with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, fruits such as raisins and apples, and sweeten with honey or brown sugar. Don’t discount bland porridge either, it is just the perfect nourishing food for convalescents with weakness and a sensitive stomach. My favourite Scottish tradition is the ‘Piece’. This recipe entailed setting leftover porridge in a drawer, and when set, a slice cut out to take as a sustaining meal for work.
You can avoid using your cutlery drawer by making oatcakes, which are divine and far out beat the chain shop-bought ones for both money and taste. They make a great mid-morning snack. Here is a fab recipe over at The Bread She Bakes. How do you use your oats? Let us know if you have any favourite recipes.
Oats as a medicine
Oats greatness doesn’t stop at food though. It is a well used favourite with medical herbalists for a range of things from digestion to skin disorders due to the content of minerals.
When oats are added to hot water, a gloopy substance is made. This gloopiness is caused by B-glucans, which are a type of soluble fibre. This fibre helps to ease constipation by bulking out& softening stools, making them easier to pass. This gloopiness has anti-inflammatory effects too, meaning it soothes and cools inflammation. These actions are used in traditional western herbal medicine to soothe gut upsets such as post gastric flu, heartburn, ulcers and other inflammatory diseases.
Oats high content of soluble fibre helps to lower cholesterol too. Though it isn’t clear exactly how fibre reduces cholesterol, it is thought that its gloopiness may hold onto fats in the gut, which in turn pass through you instead of being absorbed.
It isn’t just the oat seed that is used in herbal medicine either. The grass stalk or ‘oatstraw’ from the whole plant is harvested when still green and the oats are as yet unripe and ‘milky’ (when pressing a fingernail into a seed releases a milky liquid). These stalks and unripe seeds are then dried or tinctured to use in herbal brews. Dried oatstraw makes a beautiful earthy base for herbal tea mixes. Herbalists use oatstraw in cases of anxiety and stress, particularly when caused by overwork & being run-down.
Oats for beauty
Finally, oatmeal’s gloopiness gives further benefits: The anti-inflammatory action makes it a perfect partner for dry and red skin conditions. A thick porridge can be used as a simple face mask for dry, weathered skin (perfect for winter problems RECIPE HERE) and also to soothe itchy rashes. A handful of oats can be placed in a stocking or tied into a square of muslin and used as a sponge when washing. The gloopiness should trickle through the cloth, and can be used to cleanse, soothe, moisturise and heal conditions such as eczema and chickenpox, where normal soaps would be too harsh.
Who knew that such an undervalued superherb lived in your kitchen cupboard?