Oats are an annual plant, and can be planted either in autumn (for late summer harvest) or in the spring (for early autumn harvest). Winter oats may be grown as an off-season ground cover and ploughed under in the spring as a green fertilizer, or harvested in early summer. They also can be used for pasture; they can be grazed a while, then allowed to head out for grain production, or grazed continuously until other pastures are ready.
Oat straw is prized by cattle and horse producers as bedding, due to its soft, relatively dust-free, and absorbent nature. The straw can also be used for making corn dollies. Oat grass has been used traditionally for medicinal purposes, including to help balance the menstrual cycle, treat dysmenorrhoea and for osteoporosis and urinary tract infections.And for us cultured and finicky humans, Oat straw can be tied in a muslin bag and put into the bathtub to soften the water!
Oats have numerous uses in foods; most commonly, they are rolled or crushed into oatmeal, or ground into fine oat flour. Historical attitudes towards oats have varied, from “this should be animal food” to “Hey! this is super healthy for you!” In Scotland, Oats are held in high esteem as a mainstay of the national diet. For the Scottish folks, a dish wis made by soaking the husks from oats for a week, so that the fine, floury part of the meal remains as sediment to be strained off, boiled and then eaten.
Oats are also occasionally used in several different drinks. In Britain, they are sometimes used for brewing beer. Oatmeal stout is one variety brewed using a percentage of oats for the wort. Oatmeal caudle, made of ale and oatmeal with spices, was a traditional British drink and a favourite of Oliver Cromwell. A cold, sweet drink called avena made of ground oats and milk is a popular refreshment throughout Latin America.
Oats are generally considered healthy due to their rich content of several essential nutrients: protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese. And of course, the ability to lower cholesterol has led to acceptance of oats as a health food.