By Kris Vaughan, CH
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
I harvested some fresh catnip from my garden. The soft velvety leaves have such a pleasing fragrance that I couldn’t keep myself from pressing the bunch of leaves to my nose and taking a deep, loving whiff. I then spent time separating the leaves and flowering tops from the stems so that I can dry and preserve this beautiful, fragrant plant to be used in medicine.
You have most likely heard of catnip in relation to its attractiveness to cats, but did you know that catnip has valid medicinal uses for humans? Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a very soothing and sometimes sedative plant, which makes it useful for relieving tension and anxiety and improving sleep. Catnip is best taken in the form of a tea but can also be used as a tincture.
Catnip was part of American folk medicine and Native American healing systems, and employed as a gentle tea for children in cases of stomach distress, headache, sleeplessness, and nervousness. Catnip was used by the Hoh, Delaware, and Iroquois tribes for children’s complaints due to its mild nature. The Cherokee used the plant similarly to other indigenous groups and also considered it to be an overall strengthening tonic. They chose this herb when a sedative was needed in cases of irritability, insomnia, just like the Europeans. – Mountain Rose Herbs
My favorite use of catnip is with colicky babies. This very safe herb, given in small doses for fussy infants, settles the stomach and soothes the nervous system. It relieves gas in the tummy allowing the baby, or even adults who act like babies, to have relief and calm down. This is an herb I reach for when digestive upsets are brought on by emotional stress.
Catnip is a smooth muscle relaxant so it is useful in cases of menstrual cramping or cramping in the digestive tract. For small babies, catnip tea can be made and then a compress of the tea applied externally to the tummy.
Recent research has suggested that it helps reduce fever making it useful to treat colds, upper respiratory infections, particularly where there is a feeling of congestion in the airways, sinuses or middle ear.
Catnip may be made into a juice too for topical application as was the practice by Nicholas Culpepper (a 17th century botanist, avid astrologer, physician, and herbalist) saying that ‘the juice drunk in wine is good for bruises.’
Although large doses of catnip are known to be emetic (cause vomiting), This is a very safe herb when taken in normal amounts as in tea and food. This is not recommended for women who are pregnant; not that it causes harm but there is no documented proof either way so we must advise against it. In general, catnip is a lovely, safe, and soothing plant that is easy to grow in your garden (trust me, if I can grow it anyone can). You can also find it as dried leaves in our apothecary. If you are not sure if catnip, or any other herb, is right for you then you may consider a consultation to develop an herbal strategy for your unique needs.