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, want to help their kids wind down for bed, or are needing some extra immune or digestive support.
So basically people.
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 that it helps create a sense of peace, calms overstimulation, and ease forehead tension and motion sickness. Considered a mild sedative, it’s often sipped as a tea before bed to help with sleep.
Other Benefits and Uses
- Muscle Support: Catnip tea has traditionally been used for muscle cramps and menstrual cramps, and current research supports this approach (1)
- Respiratory Support: Clinical studies have also confirmed the bronchodilator properties of the essential oils found in catnip, supporting its use for respiratory issues. (1)
- Digestive Support: Catnip is carminative, bitter, and astringent, a combination not often found in many herbs. This makes catnip tea useful for digestive issues like gas, indigestion and heartburn.
- Immune Support: Native Americans traditionally 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.
- Well-Being & Stress Support: As mentioned above, catnip is often sipped 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 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.
Blending suggestions for cold and flu: If desired, you can pair it with other herbs that support immune function – 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.
Blending suggestions for relaxation and sleep support: Pair with herbs such as valerian root, passionflower, chamomile, or hops.
Catnip Tea Recipe
I recommend this stainless steel basket infuser to make straining this tea super simple. It works perfectly nestled in a coffee mug 16 ounce mason jar. You’ll need:
- 1-2 teaspoons organic dried catnip leaves or 1-2 tablespoons fresh catnip
1 cup boiling water
Instructions: Pour boiling water over the catnip leaves and steep for five to seven minutes. Strain and add honey/maple syrup if desired.
Tea Dosage Suggestions: 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.
Is catnip safe for pregnancy?
The Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd edition, classifies catnip as a Safety Class 1A herb. There are no known contraindications, interactions, toxicities, or side effects for the above recommended amounts of catnip during pregnancy, lactation, or any other stage of life.
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, catnip 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.
3 Catnip Recipes To Try
Products Mentioned In This Post
- Organic dried catnip for making tea (recipe above)
- Stainless steel basket infuser – Makes brewing loose leaf tea just as easy as bagged tea
- Catnip tincture
- Catnip seeds for growing your own catnip if you have a green(ish) thumb
- Medical Herbalism
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. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19041706
2. Leaf Mother. Catnip. Retrieved from https://leafmother.com/catnip/
3. Science Daily (2001) Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm
4. Hoffman, David (2003) Medical Herbalism.