Catnip is an invaluable remedy for respiratory infections – taken as a hot tea it increases perspiration and effectively brings down fevers, and acts as a decongestant. Catnip should be taken frequently at the first signs of colds or flu, and is also helpful in bronchitis and asthma, as well as eruptive infections such as chicken-pox and measles. Catnip is a wonderful remedy for babies and children; being calming and relaxing it will relieve restlessness and induce sleep. Its relaxant effect is also felt in the digestive tract where it relieves tension and colic, wind and pain – excellent for babies who have wind or colic or trouble sleeping. A strong infusion will relax headaches related to tension. Catnip can be used for other digestive problems – stomach upset, indigestion, and stress related conditions; the tannins make it a good remedy for diarrhea, particularly in children. As an enema it is prescribed for inflammatory bowel conditions, bowel infections, constipation and diarrhea. Catnip’s relaxant effects are also felt in the uterus. It can be used to relieve period pains as well as tension or stress prior to a period. It can also be used to regulate periods, and for delayed or suppressed menstruation. A hot infusion makes a good antiseptic inhalant for sore throats, colds, flu and coughs, a decongestant for catarrh and sinusitis, and a relaxant for asthma and croup. Its disinfectant properties can be used for infected skin problems. The tannins speed tissue repair and staunch bleeding of abrasions and cuts; they aid healing of burns and scalds, piles and insect bites, and inflammatory skin problems.
Catnip is a perennial herb of the mint family. Its erect, square, branching stem is hairy and grows from 3-5 feet high. The oblong or cordate, pointed leaves have scalloped edges and gray or whitish hairs on the lower side. The flowers are white with purple spots and grow in spikes from June to September.
A major constituent in catnip, nepelactone, is quite similar in its chemical structure to the valepotriates, the sedative principles of valerian root. This helps to explain why a “cup of hot catnip tea taken at bedtime insures a good night’s sleep.” Mice given catnip extract experienced a reduction of overall activity and an increase in their sleeping time. And a hot water extract administered to young (9- and 27-day-old) chicks in a hatchery caused “a significant increase” in their average daily and weekly light sleep time.
To make yourself a truly effective nightcap, simply bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. of preferably the fresh cut herb or else 1 tsp. of the dried material and let steep for about 20 minutes until lukewarm before drinking. Honey may be added if desired. An Old Amish Herbs remedy called Night Nip works pretty well, too, for insomnia. Three capsules before retiring is suggested. The tea is also very good for reducing fevers, the miseries of hay fever, and nausea. A small cup of warm catnip tea sweetened with honey is good for calming hyperactive kids.
Rural residents of the Ozark and Appalachian Mountains employ either mashed fresh catnip leaves or the dried herb powder as a crude poultice application directly to sore gums or aching teeth, to relieve the intense pain and suffering. If the powder is to be used, a piece of cotton is moistened with water and then some of the powder applied on the surfaces, after which the cotton is put into the mouth and held firmly against the aching tooth or just rubbed on the gums for quick relief. The fresh leaves seem to bring nearly instant relief, while the dried powder takes a little longer to work.
A strong catnip tea can be used as an effective eyewash to relieve inflammation and swelling due to certain airborne allergies, cold and flu, and excess alcoholic intake (“bloodshot eye” syndrome). Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add 5 tsp. of cut fresh leaves. Reduce to low heat and let simmer for only 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep an additional 50 minutes. Strain and refrigerate in a clean fruit jar. Use as an eyewash with an eye cup several times each day. Or soak a clean terry-cloth towel in a warm solution of the tea and apply over the eyes for half an hour. Used catnip tea bags, while still warm and wrung out, can also be put on the eyelids for some relief.
Catnip is settling to the stomach, sedative, and, since it powerfully stimulates sweating, fever reducing. Its pleasant taste and gentle action make it suitable for colds, flu, and fever in children, especially when it is mixed with elderflower and honey. Catnip is markedly anti-flatulent, settling indigestion and colic, and is also useful in treating headaches related to digestive problems. A tincture makes a good friction rub for rheumatic and arthritic joints, and, as an ointment, treats hemorrhoids.
Other medical uses
Catnip was a familiar herb in English kitchen gardens as far back as the 13th century. Catnip leaves were once used for rubbing meats before they were cooked, and were chopped and sprinkled into green salads. Snip a few leaves into your salads and see how you like it.
Add fresh or dried leaves to soups, stews, and hearty sauces.
Make a refreshing, soothing cup of tea by pouring 250 ml (1 cup) of boiling water over 15 ml (3 teaspoons) of fresh leaves or 5 ml (1 teaspoon) of dried leaves. Alternatively, add dried catnip leaves, along with dried mint or dried lemon balm, to your favorite black tea.
Sew cat toys and stuff them with uncrushed dry leaves for all your favourite felines.
Habitat and cultivation
Catnip is native to Europe and naturalized in North America. Catnip grows bushiest in well-drained, moderately rich soil, although it also grows well in dry, sandy soil. Add a light layer of compost to the top of the soil before planting. Recommended pH range is 4.9 to 7.5.
- Thrives in partial shade, but can be grown in full sun.
- Grows easily from seed, which should be started indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last spring frost date.
- Sow seeds no more than 6 mm (1/4 inch) deep. Seedlings usually emerge in 8 to 10 days.
- Space transplanted seedlings 30 cm (12 inches) apart.
- Can also be propagated by dividing the roots in the spring or fall, or from softwood or stem tip cuttings. Cuttings from young plants tend to root more quickly, often in just a week. Stem cuttings should be about 10 cm (4 inches) long. Grow rooted cuttings to about 15 cm (6 inches) in a moist medium before you transplant them to the garden.
- Catnip self-sows easily, so be prepared to remove unwanted plants. Weed as required.
- For bushier plants, pinch flower buds as they appear.
- Usually pest-free, but susceptible to rust and root rot.
Cats are the biggest problem confronting catnip gardeners. Give young plants a chance to get established by enclosing them in a sturdy chicken wire cage, which will protect them from enthusiastic felines. Cats are drawn to catnip only when the branches are broken or the leaves are bruised, thereby releasing the attractant chemicals, so if the plants aren’t damaged, cats will probably leave them alone.
Indoor plants should be potted in moist, but not soggy soil that is supplemented with lime. Plants need at least 5 hours of direct sunlight daily. Prune as required, as plants are inclined to become scraggly.
A catnip tea can be made by adding 250 ml (1 cup) of boiling water to 1-2 teaspoons of the herb; cover, then steep for ten to fifteen minutes. Drink 2-3 cups per day; For children with coughs 5 ml of tincture three times per day can be used.
Side effects and cautions
Catnip has some capacity to cause uterine contractions and stimulate menstruation, so you should avoid it if you are pregnant or suffering from menstrual disorders.
While a cup of catnip tea is helpful if you don’t sleep well at night, the herb’s diuretic properties mean that your peaceful sleep may be disturbed by an urgent need to go to the bathroom.
It has been said that catnip may be smoked like marijuana; however, there is no proof that this herb has the intoxicating effects of marijuana. Nevertheless, your suspicions may be justified if young people of your acquaintance seem unusually interested in your catnip plants.
To obtain the best results, consume catnip raw in a spring salad or fresh in a decoction. Do not boil it, but macerate it longer in hot water: 3 leaves in 1 cup (250 ml) water. It can be drunk cold in the case of fever and digestive migraine, or hot in the case of colic or diarrhea. As an enema, catnip can be used against intestinal pain, even in a young child: place 1 flowery top or 2 leaves in 1 cup (250 ml) water, then infuse and strain.
Catnip is excellent for treating excessive nervousness: bronchospasms, hyperactivity and insomnia. After a meal, as an herbal tea or mother tincture: place 3 leaves in 1 cup (250 ml) water; take 10 drops at a time. It is digestive and antiflatulent.
Collection and harvesting
Pick leaves for fresh use at any time throughout the summer, although the taste is milder if you pick the leaves before the plant flowers. Collect the leaves in the morning, after the dew has evaporated.
To dry catnip, harvest complete stems, including the flowering head and the tender leaves. Cut stems about 5 cm (2 inches) from the ground, and hang upside down in a shady location. When dry, strip off the leaves, crumble them, and store in airtight jars out of the light.
- 1 whole plant or 20 g fresh catnip
- 2 cups (500 ml) very hot water
- 1 Pyrex bowl
- 1 disinfected enema bulb
Place the shredded plant in Pyrex bowl. Pour in the hot water. Infuse and let cool for 10 minutes, then strain. Use all the infusion by filling the bulb several times, according to the usual method. For a baby less than 2 years old, divide the quantities by 4. This recipe overcomes colic, fever, migraines and spasms of the plexus.
A traditional rat repellent is to strew catmint leaves wherever the presence of the rodents is suspected. Bunches of catmint placed in hen and duck houses are said to deter rats there, too.
- English Catnip