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Catnip leaf is well known for its gentle and calming properties as it has been employed in traditional western folk practices for centuries. Nepeta cataria is a member of the mint family and features a square stem, heart-shaped leaves, and small fragrant pink to white flowers on a terminal spike. The leaves can be tinctured, steeped into a relaxing catnip tea, and added to herbal tea blends.
The ultimate feline herb, for centuries cats have been going crazy over this plant. It makes them happy and spunky yet has a more calming effect on people. Catnip has been used in European folk medicine for generations as a calming agent for body and mind. It is gentle and is very useful for children and infants.
Catnip is a gray-green perennial with the square stems and terminal flower spikes typical of the Mint or Lamiaceae family. It has fuzzy, heart-shaped, toothed leaves and grows 2-3 feet tall. It is native to the dry and temperate Mediterranean area in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and was introduced to the many parts of the world, particularly North America, by European settlers, and is now widely naturalized and cultivated extensively in gardens and for commerce.
Catnip blooms from late spring through autumn. In appearance, N. cataria resembles a typical member of the mint family of plants, featuring brown-green foliage with the characteristic square stem of the plant family Lamiaceae. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape. The small, bilabiate flowers of N. cataria are fragrant and are either pink in color or white with fine spots of pale purple.
Catnip requires good drainage and full sun to part shade but tolerates many soil types. The plant is resistant to drought, dry soil, and air pollution but is somewhat intolerant of heat and humidity, so give it some afternoon shade. Shear flower spikes after initial flowering to promote continued bloom. Propagate by division or seed.
The name Nepeta is derived from the Etruruan city of Neptic where the plant was said to be prominently grown. The French call catnip herbe aux chats and often made a tea from catnip prior to the arrival of Chinese teas.
Catnip was used as an ointment for piles, scabs, scurf and other skin ailments. And like so many other herbs that we have researched, catnip is listed as being effective against flatulence.
Some believe that, when chewed, catnip root can make a person fierce and quarrelsome. Catnip history includes the legend of a hangman, who, struggling to find the courage to conduct his profession, medicated himself with catnip in order to complete his task.
Although Catnip is more noted for its effect on felines than humans, many are surprised to find that it has benefits for humans, beyond a wonderfully fragrant and sublimely flowered garden mint.
Catnip was part of American folk medicine and Native American healing systems and employed as a gentle tea for children in cases of occasional upset stomach or sleeplessness. 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 relaxant was needed in cases of irritability or sleeplessness, just like the Europeans. In the southwestern United States, catnip or ‘nebada’ amongst the Spanish speakers, was utilized in traditional folk medicine to allay a range of digestive challenges. It was considered particularly useful for soothing the stomach and enhancing digestion in infants. Also, it was sold as a brandy infusion with ‘hinojo’ or fennel as a digestive tonic. Catnip is useful for soothing stomach complaints and therefore good in a laxative formula with harsh herbs like senna. Some herbalists find it helpful to balance physical manifestations such as occasional indigestion that stem from emotional issues or the “gut level”. This herb is energetically considered to be slightly warming and thus useful as a diaphoretic to bring on perspiration.