Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is appropriately named, because cats really do like the stuff. In fact, the fact that cats love the smell (and taste) of catnip makes it difficult to grow in the garden if you have cats around. You have to cover it while it’s getting started, something I’ve learned first hand.
My first experience with cats and catnip occurred years before I tried to grow it when some catnip got spilled on the carpet in the apartment across the hall. Even after it had been vacuumed up, the male cat in the apartment would act crazy over that spot on the carpet. The female cat (who always acted very prim and proper) would always look around (as if to see if anyone was watching) before indulging in rolling around over the spot.
Of course, catnip isn’t just for cats, it’s also good for human beings. In fact, it has a history of use in both China and Europe for about 2,000 years. A member of the mint family, catnip has similar properties to peppermint, spearmint and other mint family remedies. It is aromatic and carminative, so it is most often used as a remedy for gas, heartburn, colic and other problems with indigestion. It is so good at relieving indigestion, that some herbalists have called it “Nature’s Alka Seltzer.”
Catnip is a great remedy for children and has often been used to help settle the stomach of colicky babies. It is usually mixed with fennel for this purpose. The combination of catnip and fennel has saved many a mother’s sanity and sleep. This gas relieving property is why John Christopher included catnip in his formula for gas and bloating—sold by NSP as Anti-Gas Formula with Lobelia.
Like many other members of the mint family, catnip is also a nervine and sedative. Chemists have found that nepetalactone isomers are the constituents that explain catnip’s tranquilizing effect. They are similar to chemicals found in valerian. So, drinking a cup of catnip tea may help ease anxiety and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It contributes its nerve benefits to the formula Nerve Eight.
Catnip is also a mild antispasmodic, which means it helps to ease cramping, intestinal, menstrual, or whatever. This relaxing action is part of the reason catnip helps with colic, but it also makes it a useful ingredient in cleansing formulas, such as All Cell Detox and Senna Combination. Here, it offsets the tendency of laxative herbs to cause intestinal gripping.
Catnip has also been used for colds, flu, fevers and respiratory congestion. It is usually consumed as a warm tea for these problems. Catnip tea makes a fever effective enema solution to ease intestinal gas, open up respiratory passages and reduce fevers. Catnip capsules are easily made into a tea by putting the contents of 3-4 capsules into a cup and covering it with boiling water. It can then be strained and consumed, or used as an enema solution as described above.
Catnip has also been used for viral infections such as chicken pox and measles. It is an ingredient in Four, a formula that is good for respiratory congestion and allergies and Joint Support, a formula for arthritic pains.
Catnip contains citronella, a chemical that is an effective insect and ant repellent. So, while leaving the crushed leaves around will attract cats, it will repel insects.
The Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman
Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia, The by Kathi Keville
Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph.D.