Botanical: Nepeta cataria
Parts Used: leaves & flowering tops
Common Names catnip, catswort, field balm
Actions: anti-catarrhal, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, nervine
Used For: cold, flu, insect repellent
Catnip shares the same family with mint. It is a perennial herb that has square stem and opposite leaf arrangement. It bears many small purple-spotted white or pale lavender tubular flowers, which are tightly clustered at the end of the floral branches. The plant can grow up to about 3 feet high and blooms in summer.
Nepeta, or catmint, is part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), which includes notable garden favorites such as giant hyssop (Agastache), bee balm (Monarda) and lamb’s ears (Stachys), as well as sweetly aromatic herbs such as lavender (Lavandula), rosemary (Rosmarinus) and thyme (Thymus). They all share common family traits including bilabiate (two-lipped) flowers, square stems and opposite leaves, which often contain fragrant essential oils.
Catnip is a perennial that looks a lot like other members of the mint family with square stems and toothed somewhat heart-shaped leaves. It has small, purplish flowers. Catnip likes to grow in well-drained average soil in full sun but will tolerate some shade. It can become weedy like other members of the family, so manage the plants to prevent this. It doesn’t need fertilizer or other help and repels insects, so it’s pretty easy to grow.
There are approximately 250 species of Nepeta originating in temperate regions of Europe and Asia, with 20 species commonly grown in gardens. The leaves are heart-shaped with scalloped edges ranging from grey green to green color and are often crowded toward the top of the plant. The plant can be propagated from seeds or from root divisions. 
Catnip Uses in History
Nepeta cataria as a native to Europe and Asia, was known by Greeks and Romans and probably by Egyptians as well. After all, they revered cats. It is rumored that Nepeta is named after Nepete or Nepi in central Italy, where it grew prolifically. There aren’t many specific records of its use outside of medical texts. Sorry no mythology or weird historical stories. Old herbals speak of catnip uses to promote sweating, cure fevers, relieve congestion and phlegm, and help with coughs and colds. The English used it as a tea before the arrival of black tea.
Catnip is traditionally used to ease the symptoms of cold and flu. It is an excellent diaphoretic, and its ability to help induce sleep while producing perspiration without increasing overheating the system catnip herb makes a valuable tea for fever. Catnip has a gentle nature making it highly esteemed in use with children’s ailments.
Properties of Catnip
The herb has a camphor-like scent and is bitter, astringent and cooling, relaxing spasms, increasing perspiration and is carminative and sedative.
It contains a volatile oil which is high in nepetalactone as well as nepetalic acid, epinepetalactone, caryophyllene, citral, citronellol, linonen and camphor.
The nepetalactone and related compounds are the ingredients that have the calming effect on humans and are used to induce sleep.
How to Use Catnip for Wellness
Catnip is a useful relaxing nervine, especially for children. It relaxes muscle spasm, especially in the smooth muscles of the intestines, and opens the pores of the skin to promote diaphoresis and release fever. Catnip is also an anti-catarrhal, so it can be helpful in sinus or respiratory infections.
Tea is one of the more common ways to take catnip. The flowering tops of the plant are steeped in water (an infusion Do NOT boil catnip). Bring the water to a boil then remove it from the heat for a few before adding the herb.
Catnip is often used with Boneset, Elder, Yarrow or Cayenne for soothing the symptoms of colds.
Internal use of catnip
- The main effect of catnip, when taken internally, is the sedative effect. It is effective for calming a person and is used with success to induce natural sleep.
- It also helps to ease digestion, (it is in the mint family) to treat treat colic and to promote sweating, while controlling the symptoms of diarrhea.
- Traditionally it is used for feverish illnesses such as colds and influenza, infections, rheumatism, allergies, as well as headaches, stress and toothaches.
The University of Michigan notes that catmint also contains mucilage properties, which can help suppress coughs.
- Catnip is believed to help prevent miscarriage, premature birth, and allay morning sickness. 
- Modern research shows that the essential oil of catnip protects the liver from damage caused by acetaminophen use. 
Dose: 1-2 teaspoon(s) of dried herb in 8 ounces hot water (steep for 15-20 minutes, take up to 3x/day); 4-5mL, 3-4x/day of a 1:2*
External use of catnip
- It is used in a preparation to reduce swollen eyes and is useful for dandruff and various scalp disorders.
- Catnip is also included in ointments to treat hemorrhoids and as a rub for rheumatism and arthritis.
- It has been recognized as the strongest natural insect repellent. In fact, it is 10 times stronger than DEET (the commonly used ingredient in insect repellent) according to this source. Plant it everywhere in your garden to ward off pests or grab an essential oil and use the aroma to repel mosquitoes.
Catnip is not only one of the most effective deterrents against roaches in the plant kingdom, it’s one of the best roach repellents available across the board. In the late 1990s, researchers at Iowa State University determined that the smell of catnip is 100 times as effective in repelling cockroaches as DEET, the active chemical in heavy-duty insect repellents. A major benefit of catnip as a repellent is that you can use it in its fresh or dried form, or you can brew a tea from the dried plant and spray it in areas where cockroaches have been sighted.
Research has also suggested catnip has antimicrobial activity against fungi and gram-positive bacteria. And other possible catnip uses could be as a possible natural food preservative as it is effective against common food-borne pathogens. In addition, a study published in Iran in 2013 showed that the essential oil of catnip was effective in killing oral microbial infections, especially candida. 
- Note: Catnip can act as a diuretic in the body and should be used with caution by those taking lithium. Research shows that catnip can dramatically alter the way lithium is removed from the body. This can result in an increase of the amount of lithium in the body and as a result the dosage may need to be lowered to account for this change.
“If those of these times would but be, by a joint concurrence, as industrious to search into the secrets of the nature of herbs, and make trial of them. They would no doubt find the force of simples many times no less effectual, then that of compounds to which this present age is too much addicted.”
– William Cole, Adam in Eden
- Hawke, Richard G. RE70454 Plant Eval. Notes 4-page v.3 – no29_catmint.pdf. https://www.chicagobotanic.org/downloads/planteval_notes/no29_catmint.pdf. Accessed April 24, 2015.
- David L. Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMH
- Hepatoprotective effect of essential oils of Nepeta cataria L. on acetaminophen-induced liver dysfunction. Tan J, Li J, Ma J, Qiao F. Hepatoprotective effect of essential oils of Nepeta cataria L. on acetaminophen-induced liver dysfunction. Biosci Rep. 2019;39(8):BSR20190697. Published 2019 Aug 7. doi:10.1042/BSR20190697
- Catmint Benefits & Information. http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-catnip.html. Accessed May 21, 2015.
- Nostro A, Cannatelli MA, Crisafi G, Alonzo V. The effect of Nepeta cataria extract on adherence and enzyme production of Staphylococcus aureus. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2001;18(6):583-585. doi:10.1016/s0924-8579(01)00452-6
- Simon, J. E.., A. F. Chadwick and L. E. Craker. 1984. Herbs. An Indexed Bibliography 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
*All doses come from the book Herbal Therapy and Supplements by David Winston and Merrily A. Kuhn.