Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Identification: Catnip is an aromatic perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall. It has a square stem, fuzzy leaves, and twin-lipped flowers. The oblong or cordate, pointed leaves have scalloped edges and gray or whitish hairs on the lower side. The flowers are white with Catnip Flower

purple spots and grow in spikes.

Habitat: Generally distributed throughout the central and southern counties of England, in hedgerows, borders of fields, and on dry banks and waste ground, especially in chalky and gravelly soil. It is less common in the north, very local in Scotland, and rare in Ireland, but of frequent occurrence throughout temperate Asia, and also common in North America, where it was an introduced species by the colonists.

Family: Labiatae (Mint Family)

Other Names: Catmint, catnep, catrup, catswort, field balm, field wort., and Chi Hsueh Tsao (Chinese).

Flowers: June – September.

Parts Used: Flowering tops when plant is in full bloom.

History: Catnip has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years. Catnip tea was a regular beverage in England before the introduction of tea from China. Colonists introduced catnip into North America. Now it grows across the continent. The Indians adopted the herb and used it for indigestion and infant colic and as a beverage. By the 1890’s, Ojibwe women were using it. It had a native name, Gajugensibug, and was said to be a good tea to drink to bring down fevers, as well as pleasant-tasting.

Catnip has a long history of use as a tranquilizer, sedative, digestive aid, menstrual promoter, and treatment for menstrual cramps, flatulence, and infant colic. Equal parts of catnip and saffron were once recommended for smallpox and scarlet fever. The leaves were also chewed for toothache, and smoked to treat bronchitis and asthma.

Cultivation: Catnip is easily grown from seed in spring and summer. Sow the seeds in rows about 20 inches apart, thinning out the seedlings because the plants grow to a considerable size. It may also be increased by dividing the plants in spring and fall. It prefers good, fertile soil and partial shade. Soil should be well-drained and slightly alkaline. They require little attention and will last for several years if the they are kept free from weeds. It makes a nice border plant and is suitable for a rock garden.

Constituents: Essential oils (carvacrol, citronellal, geraniol, nepetol, nepetelactone, pulegone, thymol), iridoids, and tannins. (Note: The principal active agent in catnip is “nepetalactone”, a volatile oil similar in structure to the sedative ingredient found in Valerian root, another well known sedative.

Medicinal Properties:
Properties: Carminative, diaphoretic, tonic, refrigerant and slightly emmenagogue, antispasmodic, sedative, and mildly stimulating.

Main Uses: Catnip is used as a tranquilizer, sedative, digestive aid, and treatments for colds, colic, diarrhea, flatulence, and fever.

As a digestive aid, catnip may soothe the smooth muscles of the digestive tract (antispasmodic). You can drink a cup of catnip tea after meals if you are prone to indigestion or heartburn. Antispasmodics calm not only the digestive tract, but other smooth tracts as well, such as the uterus. It is used to relieve menstrual cramps and it is also used as a menstruation promoter. Pregnant women should avoid using this herb.

Catnip is a mild tranquilizer and sedative. It is most often used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and nervousness. The sedating effect may also help lessen migraine headaches.

Catnip is very useful for colds. Catnip tea is a valuable drink in case of fever, because of its action in inducing sleep and producing perspiration without increasing the heat of the system.

Topically, catnip may reduce swelling associated with arthritis, hemorrhoids, and soft tissue injuries when it is used as a topical poultice. Past topical uses include: a bath herb for stress, colic, and teething; as a compress or poultice for pain, sprains, bruises, and insect bites; as a toothache poultice; as a hair rinse for scalp irritation;, as a linament for easing the pain of arthritis and rheumatism; as an eyewash for inflammation, allergies and bloodshot eyes; as an enema to cleanse the colon; and as a salve for hemorrhoids. Recent laboratory studies have shown that catnip may contain antibacterial and antiviral components, but these effects need further study to be proved.

Preparation and Dosages:
Tincture: [Fresh Herb 1:2, Recent Dry Herb 1:5, 50% alcohol], 1/4 to 1 teaspoon, up to 4 times a day.
Infusion: 1 to 2 teaspoons of the herb to 1 cup boiling water; cover, then steep for 15 to 20 minutes. (Note: Do not boil catnip. Boiling dissipates its healing oil.)

Precautions: Catnip contains chemicals that can affect muscle tone in the uterus. Conditions such as pelvic inflammatore disease may be

worsened and the possibility of a miscarriage may increase. Therfore, women who have pelvic inflammatory disease or who are pregnant should not take catnip.

Safety: No adverse side effects have been reported if used in reasonable quantities or dosages. Some people may experience upset stomach. FDA classifies catnip as a drug of “undefined safety”. No significant toxic reactions have ever been reported.

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