How does it feel?
Catnip should ideally be harvested when in bud and full flower and dried in a place with good airflow, out of direct sun.
The odour of the leaves and stems is almost camphor-like with hints of thyme, sage and mint. It is redolent of other members of the Lamiaceae family such as thyme, sage or pennyroyal. The taste of the fresh plant is aromatic, slightly bitter and astringent.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of catnip’s key qualities below to learn more:
When dried it has a pleasant fresh, slightly sweet smell, the taste is aromatic and slightly bitter.
What can I use it for?
It is very useful to take as a tea when with cold or fever. It induces perspiration and helps cool an overheated body. It is said to have gentle sedative activity and this may be an additional reason for using, as it can help to calm and bring about sleep when with fever. It has a long tradition of use as a child’s remedy for colds, fever and colic. It is a great remedy for painful wind and spasm in the digestive tract, helping as it does to dispel and prevent further build-up of gas.
Into the heart of catnip
Catnip has primarily been used as a fever remedy, but also to relax and decongest in coughs and colds. The smooth muscle relaxant properties of the herb have been used to good effect for colicky conditions of the gut and these along with the tannins make it useful in cases of irritable bowel with a tendency to loose stools. It has been used as a poultice for wounds, bruises and haemorrhoids.
Some of these uses are now evidenced by pharmacological studies on a number of the plant’s secondary metabolites and have shown antifungal, antioxidant, antibacterial, insecticidal, anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic properties.
Catnip has been used as a remedy for coughs, sore throats, fevers, headaches, pneumonia, diarrhoea, asthma, toothache, nervousness, colic and topically to help heal wounds.
It is often taken in the form of a hot infusion to promote sweating and has a long history of use as a fever remedy, especially where there is a chill – bringing warmth and comfort to cold aches and cramps. Taken hot it can also help to relieve nasal congestion.
Like some other members of the Lamiaceae family it is carminative, meaning it prevents the formation of gas in the digestive tract or assists in its release. It relaxes smooth muscle (as in the gut), and relieves the discomfort caused by excessive wind and bloating. It is the volatile oil component of the plant that has this effect. It has been used is asthma and bronchitis and as a nervine to calm.
Before the arrival of tea from China as a beverage, Catnip tea was taken as their daily cuppa by many folk in Britain.
Despite its use to calm the nervous system, especially when feverish , it was said to be stimulating by some sources and Grieve states in A modern herbal that the root when chewed was said to make the most gentle person fierce and quarrelsome! v The root is not used these days and may contain constituents other than those in the aerial parts.
The aromatic leaves can be added to stews and sauces.
What practitioners say
Respiratory system: Catnip is used to good effect in feverish conditions, inducing perspiration and lowering the temperature. It is also used to ease the symptoms of the common cold, often combined with herbs such as yarrow, elderflower and boneset for this purpose.
Digestive system: It is an effective spasmolytic, often given to children for colic. It eases flatulence, and indigestion due to its relaxant properties and can be used to quell diarrhoea due to the gentle tannins within.
Nervous system: It has been used in excitability and insomnia, palpitations and ‘nervous indigestion’ to good effect, for the latter it is great in combination with German chamomile and Lemon balm. It is a good remedy for a restless child with fever, gently calming the nervous system and managing the fever.
Sensory: To have a clump growing in a garden or window box adds another dimension to Catnip’s healing properties. With its pleasant aroma and ability to attract bees and other pollinators it provides visual, tactile and olfactory pleasure. Like other members of the mint family such as lemon balm, lavender and rosemary, the foliage and flowers when brushed by or when rubbed between the fingers release pleasant aromas, and can act as a soothing balm for a troubled mind.
Skin: It has been used topically in ointments for haemorrhoids and for cuts by crushing and moistening fresh catnip leaves and applying to the wound as a poultice.
The essential oils: from Catnip have been studied in isolation for their effectiveness against bacterial and fungal infection and as an insect repellent to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus infection and yellow fever.
Did you know?
The plant produces certain compounds (amongst these the nepetalactone volatile oils) in order to deter it from being eaten. It is said to repel some insects such as flea beetles, weevils and cockroaches so could be put to good use planted amongst vegetables. It also deters mice and rats.
Many aphids also produce nepetalactones, using them as sex pheromones, so Catnip may attract aphid predators such as the Lacewing fly in order to predate on the aphids that are attracted by the plant’s heady aroma.
Most cats adore it of course but lions, leopards and jaguars are also susceptible to the nepetalactones within Catnip. The smell triggers a variety of behavioural responses that can range from mellowness, head-rubbing, becoming vocal and rolling around upon or eating the herb to outright aggression. This susceptibility is a hereditary trait, with around 70% of cats expressing this behaviour. It wears off after about 10 minutes, the cat becoming temporarily immune to its effects for around 30 minutes.
Catnip is generally considered to be a very safe remedy when given in therapeutic doses, often being given to children with feverish colds.
Some traditional sources say Catnip was used as a mild emmenagogue, (a herb used to stimulate blood flow to the uterus and to bring on a delayed period due to causes other than pregnancy), so there is a theoretical risk with high doses during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) bitter, aromatic
- Virya (action) cooling
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) sweet
- Guna (quality) cold, dry and heavy
- Dosha effect: steadies vata and reduces excessive pitta and kapha
- Dhatu (tissue) plasma, blood
- Srotas (channels) digestive, nervous
Like all febrifuges it is best administered as a hot infusion for feverish colds and ‘flu with the dose at 5-10g of dried herb per dose as an infusion, taken three cups daily.
2-5 ml per day of a 1:3 strength tincture.