If you have a cat, chances are you’ve heard of this herb, or may even have a stash of it hidden somewhere. While we may be well acquainted with it’s effect on our feline companions, but do you know that it has a long history of use on us as well?
In ancient Rome, Catnip tea was a favored beverage. This herb was often combined with lavender and chamomile to induce a relaxing effect. However, it was often said to help prevent, and in some cases even cure, insanity. It’s effect on mood has been seen in a number of cultures, even in the middle ages it was said to have those same properties. However it was also said to make certain people mean, and was given to executioners to get them “in the mood” to do their job efficiently. Catnip tea continued to be a popular drink throughout Europe and Asia, even being the predominant tea consumed in England up until the Elizabethan Era where it was supplanted by the Camellia sinensis plant, the plant we know of as Tea today.
Native to Europe and Asia, Catnip was introduced to America with the early Colonists and soon spread throughout the continent. A number of Native American tribes recognized the benefits of this herb and discovered their own uses for it. Today it can be found in most continents.
Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is part of the Mint, or Lamiaceae, family and has the characteristics that the family is known for. It has a square stem, opposite leaves, flowers that resemble lips, and the whole plant is aromatic. While Catnip is not native to his continent, it grows freely in the right conditions. It’s often found near old homesteads. Once established, it needs less water than many plants in the mint family. The size of Catnip varies greatly, depending on available moisture and the soil. It has been seen up to 5’ tall in ideal conditions, but most often does not get above 16 inches when cultivated. If you are looking to add this plant in your garden, make sure you have the scientific name correct as there are a number of hybrids and other plants that are commonly labeled Catmint.
Common Names- Catnip, Catswort, Catmint, Field Balm, Ment De Gato
Scientific Name- Nepeta cataria
Edibility- The young leaves are edible raw. They have a mint-like flavor and they make an excellent addition to salads. Older leaves are used as a spice in cooked foods. They can be used fresh or dried to make an aromatic herb tea. The tea should be infused in a closed container in order to preserve the essential oils, boiling is said to spoil it so bring your water to a boil and allow it to cool slightly before pouring it over your herbs.
Summary of Actions- Diaphoretic, Nervine, Relaxant, Antifungal, Bacteriacide, Sedative, Febrifuge, Carminative, Tonic, a Slight Emmenagogue, Antispasmodic, and a Mild Stimulant.
Parts Used- The leaves are the primary parts used although flowers and fresh tips can also be included and some herbalists consider the flowering tips best to use for medicinal purposes. The stems are large enough that they should be avoided.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Known as Mao Bo He, Catnip works on the Stomach and Lung Meridians. It releases to the Exterior, Clearing Wind Heat, which makes it useful for colds, flu with headache, chills and fever, sore throat, congestion, wheezing, and restlessness. It revives Stagnant Q, helping to alleviate emotional, mental, or nervous tension, gas, and cramping. It also reduces Inflammation, particularly benefiting to the skin in cases of dermatitis.
Traditional Native American Uses- Several Native American tribes used Catnip to support immune function, and for relaxing muscle spasm and cramps associated with digestion. The Mohegan tribes used a tea made from the leaves to relieve infant colic.
Essential Oil and Aromatherapy- Catnip Essential Oil is most highly regarded for its potential as a mosquito repellent, this is due to nepetalactone, which is the same substance that makes it attractive to cats. The essential oil is also antiseptic, anti-microbial, antispasmodic, and helps to clear up congestion. Catnip Oil may be a skin sensitizer and to use it with caution. Avoid using it in the bath, even if it is diluted and this use may increase chances of having an adverse skin reaction.
Insect Repellent- The active ingredient, which causes unusual behavior in cats, is a volatile oil called nepetalactone, which can be found in the leaves & stem of the plant. The plant itself can be used to keep pesky insects out of certain areas, by placing the plant close to entryways. However the essential oil works best in a preparation to keep those same pests away from your body. It is also interesting to note that this essential oil was found in one study to be about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, which is the active ingredient in most insect repellents.
Digestion- Catnip is a great herb to use as a bitter and gentle nervine. When taken before meals, it improves digestive problems, especially those caused by nerves. It can be especially potent when combined with chamomile or lemon balm for this. Add a touch of licorice or honey and you have a tasty tea for all ages. Try adding a little peppermint in with your catnip to make a pleasant tasting tea that is useful for gas, bloating, nausea or as a general after-dinner type beverage.
Children- Catnip has a long history of use in childhood infections, fevers, aches and pains, bad-tempered moods, sleeplessness and digestive upsets. It was even recommended as a front-line treatment against the dreaded fever of smallpox. This gentile herb is save for use in children of any age.
Fever- Catnip has the ability to release tension and heat from the core of the body, out through the skin. This induces perspiration and helps to reduce fevers. Since it’s a gentle herb, this makes it ideal for working with children and other sensitive individuals.
Anxiety and Stress- This herb is a gentle nervine and can be drunk throughout the day. It’s much less likely to cause drowsiness than some of the stronger herbs such as hops or passionflower, and it helps take the edge off a stress-filled lifestyle. Combine it with tulsi to help improve your ability to deal with stressful situations.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- This herb is generally considered safe for all ages. Keep in mind that there is always a chance, however rare, for allergic reactions with any plant. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, stop using this herb and speak to a medical or herbal practitioner. Some people caution against using this herb during pregnancy, as it can over stimulate the uterus. But this caution is not universal. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor or midwife before using this herb.
I only included a basic introduction to this adorable, cat-friendly plant. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates on my adventures in Nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and what to see more, Become a Patron!
Catmint: Botanical: https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/catmin36.html
Catmint: Natural Medicinal Herbs: http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/n/nepeta-cataria=catmint.php
Catmint: Richard Whelan: https://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/catmint.html
Catnip: Drugs.com: https://www.drugs.com/npc/catnip.html
Catnip Essential Oil: AromaWeb: https://www.aromaweb.com/essential-oils/catnip-oil.asp
Catnip: Gaia Herbs: https://www.gaiaherbs.com/blogs/herbs/catnip
Catnip: Mountain Rose Herbs: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/catnip/profile
Catnip (Mao Bo He): White Rabbit Institute of Healing: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/catnip/
Catnip Tea: Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/catnip-tea
Medicinal Uses for Catnip: Herbal Wisdom Institute: http://www.herbalwisdominstitute.com/blog/medicinal-uses-for-catnip
Nepeta Cataria: Plants for a Future: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Nepeta+cataria
Nepeta Cataria – Catnip: AyurWiki: https://ayurwiki.org/Ayurwiki/Nepeta_cataria_-_Catnip
Nepeta Cataria Effects on Humans: Nepeta Cataria: http://nepetacataria.org/nepeta-cataria-effects-on-humans/
Plant Profile – Catnip: The Forager’s Path: https://www.theforagerspath.com/educational-resources/plant-profiles/catnip-in-the-garden/