Herbal Spotlight: Catnip
When someone mentions catnip, you automatically think of it's effects on cats: it can make them euphoric, go crazy or mellow. Whether cats are affected by it or not is determined by genetics; half can be affected, half are not, and you won't know until your cat is between 3 and 6 months old. This applies not only to your domestic cat, but larger cats like tigers, lions, etc. I've often wanted to go to a zoo and (with permission) give them a big bag of catnip to see what happens!
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has some great properties for humans as well, and has been used for hundreds of years. Traditionally, it's actions are:
Carminative (helps prevent the formation or facilitate the expulsion of gas)
Diaphoretic (helps promote sweating)
So really, what does this mean for us? Some of the possible benefits of catnip can include:
Helps to reduce stress and improve sleep: Catnip has long been used in humans for it's relaxing properties. Catnip contains nepetalactone, thought to be responsible for it's sedative properties. Nepetalactone is similar to valepotriates found in valerian, which may boost mood and reduce anxiety, restlessness, and nervousness. Catnip helps to slow down the body’s natural cycles and bring about a relaxed state and calm.
Helps with digestive issues: Catnip is an antispasmodic (not only of skeletal muscles but smooth muscles of the digestive system as well) and a carminative, making it ideal for use in cramping, bloating, flatulence, irritable bowel, colic and indigestion.
Used as a remedy for fever and colds: As a gentle diaphoretic, catnip can induce involuntary perspiration which helps to reduce fever, cool the body, and speed the elimination of toxins from the system. As an antispasmodic, it can help relax the muscles involved with coughing, croup and bronchitis.
It can repel insects: Catnip has been long known by gardeners to help repel insects, such as aphids, flea beetles and japanese beetles, but it can also repel mosquitoes as well. A recent study has shown that catnip can be more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. Planting catnip around your yard can help; just be aware that as a member of the mint family, it grows easily and spreads rapidly, so growing in a container might be a better option if you don't want it taking over your yard. It helps to attract and feed honeybees as well so a great thing to grow regardless!
Making catnip tea is easy: you can use either fresh or dried catnip. Use 1 tablespoon of fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves per cup of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the leaves, cover to retain the natural oils and let steep about 10 minutes. As with anything, always check with a qualified health practitioner to make sure that drinking catnip tea is safe for you, especially if pregnant, breast feeding or have any health conditions, and leaving at least 3 hours in between if you are taking any medications to avoid any possible interactions. Also, it's best to buy bulk catnip from an herbal or health food store for human consumption, rather than what you might buy in a pet store to ensure purity.
So whether you've eaten a heavy meal and feeling bloated, or are feeling a bit anxious and stressed, make yourself a cup of catnip tea, put your feet up and relax!