Learn About Catnip. Herbal A-Z
By Meagan - January 23, 2018
Did you know that there are over 250 different species of Nepeta, but N. cataria is known as "true" catnip?
HistoryCatnip. Nepeta cataria... is from the plant family Lamiaceae; Also known as catmint or field balm. The name "Nepeta" is said to be derived from the town of Nepete, Italy where catnip was once grown. The Greeks and Romans originally grew catnip specifically for cats and viewed it as a symbol of fertility in women. It was dedicated to two goddesses who were cats, and these ancient cultures believed that it helped women turn into cats at night. By medieval times, it was used as a kitchen seasoning in foods and rubbed on meats before eating. The leaves and stems of catnip were eventually used in teas, but the roots were never used. In fact, it was believed that using the roots would make a person mean, and it's said that hangmen used to drink catnip root tea before executions to harden themselves for the job they were about to do. (Herbalpedia)
Plant DescriptionCatnip is a 3-foot tall perennial which means it comes back year after year. In fact, it can be difficult to contain (like many plants in the mint family) if you don't keep up with it. It begins with a square shaped stem that is common to plants in the mint family. Stems are covered in a soft down that continues out onto the leaves. This soft hair is whitish in color which gives the green leaves and stem a grayish color. Leaves grow opposite each other up the stem and are shaped like hearts and are toothed. Catnip tops out with small whitish or pinkish (although sometimes bluish or purplish) flowers that consist of 5 small petals and are arranged in a whorl along the upper part of the stem. The entire plant is strongly scented of mint and lemon. [Herbal Roots E-Zine]
Growing Your Own CatnipCatnip is an easy herb to grow. It's hardy, and it can thrive in most soils with a pH between 5 and .5. It prefers full sun, but it will do just fine in partial shade as well. Catnip can be easily propagated by seed. These seeds remain viable for 4-5 years, and the germination rate is sporadic. Seeds should be sown 1 inch deep, 9-12 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. It usually takes 8-12 for seeds to begin to sprout. Once plants are established, they don't need much care except for weeding. It's best to pinch off the first flower buds as soon as they appear. This helps the bush grow full with a superior quality leaf. [Herbalpedia] Harvesting Catnip Harvest catnip as soon as it starts to bloom in mid-summer. It's best to pinch off lower leaves to extend the life of the plant, but if you decide to clip the stems and tips, be sure to clip 6 inches above the ground to preserve the plant's root system. Dry the stem and leaves as soon as possible and store them in a cool dry area to prevent mold grown. [Herbalpedia]
Nutritional BenefitsCalcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, and zinc. [Balch]
Volatile oil (carvacrol, citronellal, nerol, geraniol, pulegone, thymol, nepetalic acid); iridoids (including epideoxyloganic acid and 7-deoxyloganic acid); tannins. [Hoffmann]
ActionsCarminative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, nervine, astringent. [Hoffmann]
- Taste: pungent and bitter
- Energetics: cooling and drying [Tierra]
Medicinal UsesCatnip has a long history of medicinal uses ranging from stomach upset, to coughs, to diarrhea, to fevers, and more. Below I'm going to highlight the 3 most common ways catnip is used today. Relaxant Catnip may make your cat go crazy, but it will do the opposite for you. Catnip is a relaxing nervine with mild sedative properties. It's used for anxiousness, irritability, insomnia, stress, and more. It's often added to cough formulas for this very reason. It helps relax the body and calm down the coughing reflex. Many parents also use it in tincture form to help aid with fussy, teething babies. [Herbalpedia] [Gladstar] Gas/Colic/Cramps Catnip is a carminative and antispasmodic herb which means it helps relieve gas and cramping. This is credited to the high amount of volatile oils found in the plant. Not only that, but it's a mild bitter which has positive effects on gut health as well. It has a long history of successful use in this area. Fevers Since catnip has diaphoretic properties, meaning it stimulates pores to open in the body which allows the body to sweat, it can be very beneficial for helping to lower fevers naturally. It's often used in tea form (or as an enema) for this result, but you may wanna mix it with a yummy tasting herb such as spearmint, especially for children.
DosageCan be prepared as a tea or tincture.
- Tea: Infuse 2 tsp. of dried herb in 1 cup of boiled water for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3 times a day.
- Tincture: 2-6 mL 3 times a day (1:5 in 25%) [Hoffmann]
PrecautionsNone noted when used in reasonable amounts. Use caution during pregnancy due to volatile oil content. [Duke] REFERENCES:
- Balch, Phylis. (2006). Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
- Duke, J. (2000) The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
- Gladstar, R. (2008). Herbal recipes for vibrant health. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
- Herbarium at HANE (2014). Hawthorn Monograph. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
- Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. (2008). Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD005312.
- Rogers, M. (2006). Herbalpedia. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
- Winston, David. (2012). Traditional Research: Grief Relief. David Winston’s Resources. Retrieved January 2016 from http://www.davidwinston.org/formulas/griefrelief_trad.html