Catnip for Human Medicine

Catmint Herbal Medicine
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My interest in medicinal herbs began when I was in my 20s. That was also when I had my first unfortunate incident with catnip (also called "catmint"). I'd bought a tiny nursery seedling, thinking it would be fun to grow catnip and give my cat a little now and then...but my cat ate the entire seedling before I ever got it planted...and then proceeded to suffer from hallucinations which lead to years of flashbacks. So let's just say I'm not a fan of giving catnip to cats. (It is, most vets will admit if you press them, rather like giving heroine to a human.)

So when we moved to our new homestead and I found a large patch of catnip, I was ready to pull it out. Yet with our homestead, came the previous owners' cat, Loki. He's a great little guy - a wonderful mouser, and sweet to boot. He's not young, however...and he's very fond of catnip. The family joke is that Loki is the old hippie on our homestead; in the summer, when the catnip is growing, we always know where to find him: laying in the middle of the catnip. All. Day. Long.

Despite some misgivings, I finally decided the cat was set in his ways, happy, showing no ill effects from the catnip (other than growing a little thin in the summer because he's too busy in the catnip to eat as usual), and I hated to upset his world. So the catnip remains, though I keep it under pretty tight control.

That decision made, I also came to the conclusion that I may as well use the catnip for the humans who live here, too. Because, yes! Catnip has a long tradition of medicinal use in humans.
Catnip blooms can be lovely and attract plenty of garden pollinators. (Courtesy of

Catnip as Human Medicine

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is part of the mint family (hence the other common name for the plant: catmint). In humans, the herb is a mild relaxant, mostly used as a soothing tea to de-stress and prepare for sleep. Catnip contains nepetalactone, which is known to repel mosquitoes better than DEET and may repel flies and cockroaches, too. Herbalists say catnip is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, antispasmodic, anti-fungal, and a bactericide. It's traditionally used for treating colic, nausea, digestive distress, fevers, arthritis, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, hemorrhoids, to put menstrual cramps at bay, as a treatment for minor cuts and abrasions, and to help relieve the symptoms of the cold or flu.

How to Grow and Harvest Catnip

Like many perennial herbs, catnip is incredibly easy to grow. In fact, usually the only problem with growing it is keeping it from spreading everywhere. Therefore, I suggest either growing catnip in a container, or keeping it in a small bed surrounded by concrete.

Catnip wants full sun, and I find it doesn't mind being a bit dry (though that's contrary to most growing guides I've read, which claim catnip needs evenly moist soil). Like all herbs, catnip loves a good trim, so don't be afraid to harvest it regularly. To harvest, simply snip off a stem, just above a double set of leaves.

Catnip is in the mint family. (Courtesy of

How to Preserve Catnip

There are some uses for fresh catnip leaves, but catnip is primarily used dried. Pick leaves off stems and place them on the trays of a dehydrator. Dry at 95 degrees F. until crisp. Alternatively, hang stems of catnip upside down in a dark location until the leaves are completely dry.

Place dry, cool leaves in an air tight container stored in a dark, cool location.

Using Catnip for Humans

Tea: This is the most common way to consume catnip and is perfect as a relaxer, sleep aid, digestive aid, menstrual cramp reducer, and headache reliever. Strong teas may also relieve anxiety attacks. Simply fill a tea ball with dried catnip leaves, crushing them as you go; place the ball in a cup, cover with boiling water, then cover the cup with a saucer. When the tea stops steaming, you may remove the saucer. (Herbalists say covering steeping tea helps retain the herbs' medicinal qualities.) For a stronger tea, use fresh, coarsely chopped leaves. It's fine to add honey or lemon juice to flavor the tea.

Poultice: When catnip is actively growing, crush fresh leaves and place directly onto minor cuts and abrasions to help prevent infection and promote healing. Fresh leaves may also be chewed to help relieve a toothache, and a simple poultice of crushed catnip leaves and warm water or oil may be applied to arthritic parts of the body.

For colic: Brew catnip tea and have the child consume it. Most children do not like the flavor of catnip, so adding sweetener helps. (Do not use honey as a sweetener for children under the age of 12 months.) You may also add the tea to a bottle of milk or formula or other drink - just 2 or 3 tablespoons will do the trick.
Catnip is also called catmint. (Courtesy of

Baths: Adding catnip to warm bath water may help relieve sore muscles, achey bodies with the flu, and relax the body and mind. If desired, place a handful of fresh or dried catnip in a square piece of cotton, pull up the corners, tie off, and hang the resulting bag so the warm water runs through it as you fill the tub. Alternatively, make a strong catnip tea and add it to the bath water.

WARNINGS: According to WebMD, catnip should not be taken regularly or excessively. Do not consume catnip if you are pregnant. If you are nursing, talk to your doctor before taking catnip. Those with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) should not consume catnip, nor should women who have excessive menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia). Catnip should not be used in conjunction with medications that slow down the central nervous system, like sedatives. Talk to you doctor if you take lithium and you want to consume catnip. As with any plant, allergic reactions are possible, if unusual.

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* Title images courtesy of Megan Hansen and mwms1916.

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