Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert advice from a herbal practitioner.
Catnip is a perennial herb which is a member of the mint family Labiatae. It is also often referred to by its Latin name, Nepeta cataria. Its more popular name comes from its property that enables it to attract and change the behavior of members of the feline family. Today the herb is more popular for its many benefits for the human species which include calming of jittery nerves and soothing an upset digestive tract.
An aromatic herb that is native to Europe, catnip has been introduced in North America as well. The plant can reach a height of three feet and is characterized by square stems and fuzzy gray-green leaves similar to other plants of the mint family. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, thanks to the small white flowers with purple spots that it produces in late summer.
Using it as a Herbal Remedy
The therapeutic uses of the herb were discovered by Roman doctors who used it to treat many medical ailments. In the Middle Ages, it was used to combat colds, coughs, and sore throats. During this era, it was also believed that catnip would be effective in treating leprosy but this was proven incorrect. The herb, today, has many uses including as a digestive aid, sedative, and tranquilizer.
As a Tea
Steep two teaspoons of dried catnip, including leaves and flowering tops, in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes, and strain the liquid. Add some honey to sweeten the tea. Never add the herb directly to the boiling water. This will cause the healing components of the herb to be destroyed. Instead pour boiling water over the herb and allow it to steep for a few minutes. You can consume about 3 cups a day.
An infusion of the herb is used to relax tense muscles, relieve indigestion, gas, menstrual cramps, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is also known to be a useful decongestant and expectorant. Topical creams containing the herb are used as skin antiseptics, poultice for wounds and bruises, and as a mosquito repellent.
Its oil is used to treat nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. A chemical called nepetalactone found in catnip has a sedative effect on human beings. This effect is very useful in palliating the pain due to migraine. The herb can also used to treat swelling due to arthritis and hemorrhoids. It is also used as an antibiotic, antispasmodic, astringent, anti-rheumatic, and carminative herb.
Considered to be a safe and non-toxic herb, it can be taken by anyone without any kind of major side effects. However, due to its sedative properties, one should avoid it before driving or operating heavy machinery. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking catnip. In very rare instances, it may cause an upset stomach. If you experience this, decrease the dose. Also, make sure you take the herb only under the supervision of a medical or herbal practitioner. Never exceed the recommended dose under any circumstances.
Effect on Cats
Catnip acts a recreational herb for cats. It is said that cats sniff and lick the herb before actually eating it. The sniffing helps in giving the cat a high and eating the herb helps release more nepetalactone that causes a stimulating effect in cats. It apparently makes the cat feel good and helps it indulge in playing, chasing, and hunting.
While a beneficial herb, it is important that you consult a medical practitioner before you start consuming it in any form.