Need to Relax? Catnip Tea Calms Nerves and Aids Digestion

Heather Dessinger

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Catnip tea in teapot on kitchen counter

Unless you happen to own the cat that was caught on video breaking into a pet store and finding bliss in the catnip aisle, you might be wondering why you should care about this little herb with heart-shaped leaves. Yes, it’s beloved by cats everywhere, but it’s also amazing for people who need to relax, sleep deeply, and/or are looking for some extra digestive or immune support. 

So basically people.

So what is catnip, and how does it benefit me?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria), also called catmint, is a little different from adaptogens (which help with stress) and other herbs that work best when used consistently over a period of time. This member of the mint family is mostly helpful in one-off situations, like when you need to unwind after a particularly stressful day.

Catnip is what herbalists call a “relaxing nervine,” which means it has a calming effect on the central nervous system (CNS). It’s revered for its ability to create a sense of peace, calm overstimulation, and ease forehead tension and motion sickness. Considered a mild sedative, it’s often sipped as an herbal tea before bed to help with sleep.

Before we dive into its other uses,  I want to mention that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. Please talk with your healthcare provider about any herbs you are considering. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the benefits.

Health Benefits & Uses

In addition to its calming properties, catnip may be helpful for:

  • Muscle Relaxation: Catnip tea has traditionally been to ease tense muscles, especially when uncomfortable cramps and menstrual cramps are present. Current research supports this approach. (1)
  • Respiratory Support: Clinical studies suggest that the essential oils found in catnip may have bronchodilating properties, which may explain its traditional use for supporting respiratory function. Bronchodilators relax bronchial muscles, allowing for expansion of the bronchial air passages. (1)
  • Digestive Support: Catnip is classified as carminative (flatulence reliever), herbal bitter (supports digestion), and astringent (substance that tightens tissues and soothes inflammation). This combination is not often found in many herbs, and it makes catnip tea especially useful for digestive issues like upset stomach, gas, indigestion and heartburn.
  • Immune Support: Several Indigenous American tribes used catnip for immune support, especially in cases of fevers or colds. (2)
  • Mosquito Repellent & Bug Spray: According to researchers, “nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor, is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET — the compound used in most commercial insect repellents.” (3) The EPA’s guide to insect repellents also lists it as one of three oils that are helpful for repelling ticks – citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus) and lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) are the other two. I use the essential oil in my homemade bug spray/homemade tick spray, and my dogs flea and tick powder.
  • Wound Care: Used as a compress or topical wash for wounds.
  • Emotional Well-Being & Stress Support: As mentioned above, catnip is often sipped as an herbal tea to relax tension and support restful sleep. This study also found it can be helpful for easing feelings of nervousness.

How do I use catnip?

The easiest way to use dried catnip leaves is to make them into tea by steeping 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb in hot water – I’ve included a recipe below. Catnip is not known to be toxic, so you can likely use as much as is needed until you achieve the acute support you desire.

Another option for incorporating catnip is to use a tincture. An adult catnip tincture dose of 30-40 drops 3x/day is suggested. Here’s an alcohol-free version if you prefer that.

Glass teapot full of catnip tea on kitchen counter with jar of dried catnip in background
Dried catnip in jar next to honey and catnip tea
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Catnip Tea Recipe

This caffeine-free herbal tea is perfect for supporting  relaxation, deep sleep, digestive function, immune function, and more. Makes 1 cup of tea.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 1 cup
Author Heather Dessinger



  • Pour boiling water over the catnip leaves and steep for five to seven minutes.
  • Strain and add honey/maple syrup to taste if desired.


1. I recommend this stainless steel basket infuser to make straining this tea super simple. It works perfectly nestled in a coffee mug or 16 ounce mason jar.
2. Herbs are not pharmaceutical drugs, so there are no “dosages” as we typically understand them. However, herbalists do share knowledge about what methods of consumption seem to produce a beneficial effect for most people. David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AGH, author of Medical Herbalism, suggests three times per day. (4) Of, course, that’s on an as-needed basis.
3. Blending suggestions – If desired, you can add with other herbs that support immune function to this tea – elderberry, yarrow and cayenne are good options. If you have elderberry syrup on hand you can add some to the finished tea to sweeten it. For relaxation, consider valerian rootpassionflower, lemon balm, chamomile, or hops. 

Is catnip easy to grow?

Yep! Although this perennial herb is native to parts of Asia and Europe, it’s now super easy to grow in a sunny window just about anywhere. Outdoor cultivation is also an option if you’re in zones 3-9 in the United States. Something to be aware of is that, just like other forms of mint, the catnip plant can take over your garden. I prefer to plant it in a large pot that gives lots of room while also keeping it contained.

Growing tips: The easiest approach is to buy seedlings from an organic nursery, but they’re also pretty easy to grow from seeds like these. Catnip loves full sun, soil with good drainage, and regular watering. Harvest the leaves and flowers after the plant has started to flower – usually between May and September – and use twice as much fresh as you would dried.

Why do cats love catnip, anyway?

Ahh, great question. Apparently nepetalactone, which is the essential oil component that bugs hate, is responsible for the euphoria cats seem to experience. When nepetalactone hits their olfactory bulb, experts think the cats brain interprets it as a pheromone associated with, uh, romance.

Nepetalactone doesn’t affect all cats – just about 70-80% – and only those that have reached reproductive maturity. Kittens under six months old are usually immune. Fortunately there’s no harm in letting cats enjoy this herb in cat toys or pillows. It’s non-addictive and safe, but overindulging can cause a stomach ache.

How safe is catnip?

The Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition, classifies catnip as a Safety Class 1A herb, which is defined as an herb that can be:

“safely consumed when used appropriately.

  • History of safe traditional use
  • No case reports of significant adverse events with high probability of causality
  • No significant adverse events in clinical trials
  • No identified concerns for use during pregnancy or lactation
  • No innately toxic constituents
  • Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a basis for exclusion from this class
  • Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases for exclusion from this class”

However, other sources say that it should be avoided during pregnancy because it may stimulate the uterus and cause a miscarriage. I would steer clear during pregnancy just in case.

3 Catnip Recipes To Try

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Article Coauthors: Mommypotamus founder, Heather Dessinger, and Dr. Lori Valentine Rose (PhD). Dr. Rose is a college biology, nutrition, herbal, and wellness instructor, Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP), Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, and is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She created, developed, and instructs the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway, the most thorough, affordable, degreed wellness program in the country.

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1. Gilani, A.H. (2009) Chemical composition and mechanisms underlying the spasmolytic and bronchodilatory properties of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria L.
2. College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Native Medicinal Garden.
3. Science Daily (2001) Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET.
4. Hoffman, David (2003) Medical Herbalism.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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16 thoughts on “Need to Relax? Catnip Tea Calms Nerves and Aids Digestion”

  1. I love catnip! We use this nearly every night in our family “bedtime tea.” I mix ours with chamomile and lemon balm. My toddler loves it with a touch of honey. It works great at calming the kiddos (and mama) before bed.

    • I learned from my herbal teacher Mimi Hernandez that lemon balm is great for ADHD, and I imagine that combining it with catnip is worth a try!

  2. We love using catnip especially for headaches and low grade fevers or even at the end of daylight savings time to encourage an easier earlier bedtime. One thing that we have experienced is that we have one child who we cannot give catnip to. This is just anecdotal, but when we give him catnip our completely potty trained elementary schooler will wet the bed. Best I can tell he sleeps so hard he just doesn’t wake up. The other kids are fine, but if you notice this in a potty trained child you may want to avoid catnip for their sake.

  3. You can harvest as it grows. It grows back and extends the amount you get. It WILL go everywhere so watch where you see it and pull it up as soon as you see it in places you don’t want it. Pick the largest leaves it encourages the other to get bigger and dry it on a cookie sheet on your oven’s lowest temp so you have it all winter! Been growing it for years. Pots on the porch keep mosquitos down too.

  4. Do you have any recommendations for use of catnip EO, besides homemade bug spray? I was wondering if I could dilute and apply to the bottoms of feet before bedtime, to assist with sounder sleep. Thanks!

  5. I needed basil for my caprese tomatoes but I had already picked too much off so I thought I’d try fresh catnip instead. It made quite a nice substitute and now I’ll use both, I like it better this way.

  6. Just wondering if making a salve from catnip would be beneficial. Ive heard rubbing a catnip salve on temples at the first sign of a headache works wonders. Just can’t find where I read it!

  7. 5 stars
    Thank you! I really enjoyed this article! I just realized that catnip is a medical herb. I have at least two varieties in my garden – LOVE THEM – :-)) But I’m not secure about what varieties they are. Is there any catnip variety that cannot be consumed – or that will not have any effect? Or can I use them safely, just knowing it’s a catnip?

  8. Just FYI: the link for the tea strainer has the picture of a charging adapter, the link for the catnip seeds is not there…but I found some for $5.99 on Amazon.
    Good article! Interesting about the catnip and cats….mine didn’t even sniff it at 8 weeks, but at 8 months…well bit of a different story!
    OH! the link to the YouTube cat in catnip would have been REALLY nice!

  9. Hi, can you please tell where you got the tea strainer that fits into the mason jar and the jar you have the dried catnip stored un?