Catnip is a perennial herb found growing wild throughout North America and Europe where it is thought to have originated. It is easily cultivated in any garden soil. A member of the mint family, Catnip has square, erect and branched stems and grows 2 to 3 feet high. The leaves are heart-shaped, toothed, opposite and covered with fine downy hairs especially on the under sides giving the whole plant a grayish green appearance. The small tubular, two-lipped flowers grow in dense whorls atop each stem and are white to lavender with reddish to purple spots. Catnip blooms from June to September. The entire plant has a minty fragrance. Gather the above ground parts of Catnip just after blooms open.
Catnip Medicinal Properties and Herbal Use
Young leaves are edible raw. They have an aromatic mint-like flavor eaten in salads. As the name (cat-nip) suggests, cats love to nip at it, although watching them it might better be called (cat-roll) for they seem to roll, rub, and totally crush the plant into the ground. They discover that the more they crush it the more oil it releases. Plant constituents include Nepetalic acid, Alpha- & beta- Citral, Nepetalactone, Limonene, Geraniol, Dipentene, Citronella, Nerol, a terpene, Acetic acid, Butyric acid, Valeric acid and Tannin. The leaves and flowering tops are strongly antispasmodic, antitussive, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, slightly emmenagogue, refrigerant, sedative, slightly stimulant, stomachic and tonic. Catnip has a long history of use in alternative medicine, being employed especially in treating disorders of the digestive system and, as it stimulates sweating, it is useful in reducing fevers. The fresh juice is used as an emmenagogue (to promote menstruation). Mild catnip tea is used to relieve colic in babies, restlessness and nervousness, and is very useful as a mild nervine for children. Stronger tea relieves fevers due to colds and flu as well as calming the stomach and preventing nausea and diarrhea. The fresh young shoots are good in spring salads and rubbed into meat for flavor. Applied externally or added to bath it is good for skin irritations. Catnip oil is great for aroma therapy. A strong infusion can be used to repel fleas from carpets or the fur of animals. An extract from the leaves (called nepetalactone) has herbicidal and insect repellant properties.
Catnip Herbal Folklore and History
It was once believed that smoking the leaves would produce a mild hallucinogenic effect. Although this use has since been dispelled, it may work in some individuals. It was also believed to deter the (evil-eye) from children given to fits, this because of its ability to calm an extremely agitated child and diminish nightmares.
Catnip Herb Tea Recipe
To 1 cup of boiling water add 2 tsp. dried herb; steep for 10 min. give warm in cup doses-½ cup for children 1 tbsp. diluted or in milk for babies.
Mintcream: Add 3 tbsp. to ½ cup heavy cream use in cocoa or coffee.
Article by Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron
Other Names: Catmint, Catnep, Catswort, Fieldbalm
"Catnip" is the common name for a perennial herb of the mint family. It is native to Europe and is an import to the United States and other countries. The catnip plant is now a widespread weed in North America.
Given to the right cat, catnip can cause an amazing reaction! The cat will rub it, roll over it, kick at it, and generally go nuts for several minutes. Then the cat will lose interest and walk away. Two hours later, the cat may come back and have exactly the same response. Because there really isn't any scent that causes this sort of reaction in humans, catnip is hard for us to understand. However, it is not an uncommon behavior in animals that rely heavily on their noses. For example, there are many scents that will trigger intense hunting behavior in dogs, and other scents will cause dogs to stop in their tracks and roll all over the scent.
Although no one knows exactly what happens in the cat's brain, it is known that the chemical nepetalactone in catnip is the thing that triggers the response. Apparently, it somehow kicks off a stereotypical pattern in cats that are sensitive to the chemical. The catnip reaction is inherited, and some cats are totally unaffected by it. Large cats like tigers can be sensitive to it as well.
The reaction to catnip only lasts a few minutes. Then the cat acclimates to it, and it can take an hour or two away from catnip for the cat to "reset." Then, the same reaction can occur again. Very young kittens and older cats seem less likely to have a reaction to catnip.