Since the 13th century, people have used Nepeta cataris (catnip) as an herbal medicinal cure-all. For a time the French used it as a culinary seasoning, but its pungency has mostly been restricted to medicine and for the pleasure of felines.
An attractive perennial herb of the mint family, catnip grows to about 3 feet, making it an excellent border plant in an herb garden. The plant has square-shaped stalks, typical of the mint family, and soft furry green leaves.
In mid-summer, the tops of the bushes are covered in spires of purplish-blue flowers that when dried can be made into herbal wreaths.
As with most herbs, Nepeta cataris requires full sun and plenty of water.
Catnip will thrive in pots on the patio or in vegetable, flower and herb gardens. Once established, it freely self-seeds in amazing profusion and will wildly take over a garden if left on its own to flourish. You may want to prune back new growth to prevent self-seeding. Once the roots are established, catnip can survive long periods of drought.
Pests are not particularly attracted to the plant. According to a 2001 study, by the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone, a chemical found in catnip, is so strong it repels mosquitoes 10 times more effectively than the compound DEET, found in most commercial bug repellants.
Herbalists use the leaves in tea to calm nerves, comfort bellyaches, ease headaches, and promote relaxation and reduce insomnia. Dr. Steven Ehrich of the University of Maryland Medical Center asserts that catnip tea may benefit colicky infants due to gas or food intolerance.
Always consult a doctor for appropriate dosages for infants and young children. Women who may be pregnant or people suffering from liver or kidney disorders should not ingest catnip.
Catnip roots have the opposite effects of the leaves and work as a natural stimulant. Dr. James Belch, who wrote the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, asserts catnip contains folic acid, biotin, manganese and Vitamins A and B, essential vitamins and minerals for our body.
An herbal tea blend I sometimes sip before bed has a mixture of many relaxing herbs, including catnip leaf. I find it does help me ease into bed, more relaxed, after a bustling day.
When my evening tea is brewing, I often give my curious felines a dose of catnip too, sprinkling generous amounts on the kitchen floor. After they have rolled around in the herb and breathed in the refreshing aroma, their eyes become full of adventure. They climb the walls and scamper wildly through the house chasing each another.
Perhaps I should start giving the kitties their treat in the morning, rather than when I am sipping relaxing catnip tea just before bed. My suspicion tells me I may sleep more soundly!
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