The Oat is a native of Britain in its wild and uncultivated form, and

is distinguished by the spikelets of its ears hanging on slender

pedicels. This is the Avena fatua, found in our cornfields, but not

indigenous in Scotland. When cultivated it is named Avena

sativa. As it needs less sunshine and solar warmth to ripen the

grain than wheat, it furnishes the principal grain food of cold

Northern Europe. With the additio
of some fat this grain is capable

of supporting life for an indefinite period. Physicians formerly

recommended highly a diet-drink made from Oats, about which

Hoffman wrote a treatise at the end of the seventeenth century; and

Johannis de St. Catherine, who introduced the drink, lived by its use

to a hundred years free from any disease. Nevertheless the Oat did

not enjoy a good reputation among the old Romans; and Pliny said

Primum omnis frumenti vitium avena est.

American doctors have taken of late to extol the Oat (Avena

sativa) when made into a strong medicinal tincture with spirit of

wine, as a remarkable nervine stimulant and restorative: this being

especially valuable in [398] all cases where there is a deficiency of

nervous power, for instance, among over-worked lawyers, public

speakers, and writers.

The tincture is ordered to be given in a dose of from ten to twenty

drops, once or twice during the day, in hot water to act speedily; and

a somewhat increased dose in cold water at bedtime so as to produce

its beneficial effects more slowly then. It proves an admirable

remedy for sleeplessness from nervous exhaustion, and as prepared

in New York may be procured from any good druggist in England.

Oatmeal contains two per cent. of protein compounds, the largest

portion of which is avenin. A yeast poultice made by stirring

Oatmeal into the grounds of strong beer is a capital cleansing and

healing application to languid sloughing sores.

Oatmeal supplies very little saccharine matter ready formed. It

cannot be made into light bread, and is therefore prepared when

baked in cakes; or, its more popular form for eating is that of

porridge, where the ground meal becomes thoroughly soft by

boiling, and is improved in taste by the addition of milk and salt.

The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia's food, said Burns, with

fervid eloquence. Scotch people actually revel in their parritch and

bannocks. We defy your wheaten bread, says one of their

favourite writers, your home-made bread, your bakers' bread, your

baps, rolls, scones, muffins, crumpets, and cookies, your bath buns,

and your sally luns, your tea cakes, and slim cakes, your saffron

cakes, and girdle cakes, your shortbread, and singing hinnies: we

swear by the Oat cake, and the parritch, the bannock, and the brose.

Scotch beef brose is made by boiling Oatmeal in meat liquor, and

kail brose by cooking Oatmeal in cabbage-water. [399] Crushed

Oatmeal, from which the husk has been removed, is known as

groats, and is employed for making gruel. At the latter end of the

seventeenth century this was a drink asked-for eagerly by the public

at London taverns. Grantham gruel, says quaint old Fuller, in his

History of the Worthies of England, consists of nine grits and a

gallon of water. When thus made, it is wash rather, which one will

have little heart to eat, and yet as little heart by eating. But the

better gruel concocted elsewhere was a wholesome Spoon meat,

though homely; physic for the sick, and food for persons in health;

grits the form thereof: and giving the being thereunto. In the border

forays of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries all the provision

carried by the Scotch was simply a bag of Oatmeal. But as a food it

is apt to undergo some fermentation in the stomach, and to provoke

sour eructations. Furthermore, it is somewhat laxative, because

containing a certain proportion of bran which mechanically

stimulates the intestinal membranes: and this insoluble bran is rather

apt to accumulate. Oatmeal gruel may be made by boiling from one

to two ounces of the meal with three pints of water down to two

pints, then straining the decoction, and pouring off the supernatant

liquid when cool. Its flavour may be improved by adding raisins

towards the end of boiling, or by means of sugar and nutmeg.

Because animals of speed use up, by the lungs, much heat-forming

material, Oats (which abound in carbonaceous constituents) are

specially suitable as food for the horse.