Botanical Name – Nepeta cataria
Family – Lamiaceae
Common Names – Catnip, Catmint
Description – A member of the mint family, catnip usually grows around 2 to 3 feet tall, but can grow up to 6 feet tall in ideal locations. It has the typical square stems and alternate leaves of the mint family. The terminal flower clusters are white or light pink with darker violet or purple markings. The whole plant is covered with a soft downy felt that makes the plant slightly gray green to the eye, especially on the undersides of the leaves. The leaves are triangular, lightly heart shaped near the stem and roundly serrated along the edges. Catnip has a distinctive smell that is minty with an unusual after smell. Once you’ve experienced it, you won’t forget it. It’s this peculiar smell that drives cats crazy.
Part used – Arial parts are harvested when just beginning to flower. Cut the whole above ground portion 2/3 down, leaving 1/3 of the plant untouched. Tie in bunches and hang upside down to dry. Once dried discard the stems.
Primary Constituents – Catnip has a varied and complex chemistry that includes nepetalactones, essential oil, caryophyllene, caryophyllene-oxide, rosmarinic acid, humulenes, farnesenes, piperitone, thymol-methyl-ether, camphor and more.
Medicinal Properties – Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, nervine, sedative, diaphoretic and astringent.
Preparation – Cold Water Infusion, Tincture, Infused Oil, Essential Oil, Infusion
Medicinal use – Catnip is a classic children’s remedy used to treat colds, flu, fever, anxiety, stomachache, restlessness, flatulence, diarrhea, colic and sore throat. It is safe and effective for children, babies and nursing mothers, although not recommended for when pregnant because it can increase menstrual flow. For adults catnip works as a gentle relaxing agent to sooth the nerves, settle the digestive system, and relieve cramping due to lower abdominal distress or menstruation. Internally, Catnip tea or tincture is a gentle and reliable mild sedative effective for children even at their fussiest, when ill or upset. Mix with fennel for stomach upset or colic, and with spearmint and yarrow during fevers. Catnip mixes nicely with lavender flowers, chamomile and lemon balm for the fussy and over stimulated. A nice teething formula can be made as a tincture with chamomile, catnip, lemon balm, lavender and vegetable glycerin given 20 drops as often as every 2 hours to reduce symptoms associated with teething. The nursing mother can take the tea or tincture to relieve colic for her baby and relieve anxiety and stress for herself. A tea or tincture taken alone or mixed with peppermint, and rose hips or rose flowers is a lovely remedy for diarrhea for child or adult. When used externally, catnip is par excellence as an insect repellent. When mixed with pennyroyal herb and geranium, it will repel just about anything that’s bothering you. I like to keep it planted around the front yard and leave the volunteers in the garden to deter the mosquitoes, flies and other pests. Use externally as an oil or in the bath to help with the achy muscles. The infused oil or a tea infusion as a compress can be used externally on the stomach of colicky babies to relax the stomach and help them sleep.
Preparation Methods & Dosage – The tea is made by steeping 1 tablespoon of herb per cup of boiling water, left covered for 10 to 15 minutes. Give by the dropper to babies and up to 4 cups per day to older children. Give 10 to 30 drops of the tincture up to 4 times per day.
Interactions and Counter-indications – Catnip is counter-indicated when pregnant because it can stimulate the menstrual flow. The essential oil has been known to cause contact dermatitis to small children and those with sensitive skin.
History and Folklore – let’s not forget about the Kitty Cats for which catnip is named. Catnip has a narcotic effect on our friendly felines that makes them go nuts for it. Dried catnip is often put into toys and balls for them to enjoy. By the way if a cat doesn’t like the catnip you purchased, it’s probably old, with its medicinal value diminished.
Recipe Babies Colic Tea
- 2 parts Catnip
- 1 part Chamomile
- 1 part Fennel
Mix together and steep 1 tablespoon in 1 cup water. Leave covered for 10-15 minutes and strain. Give to infants by dropper or make an herbal compress by soaking a towel or rag in the infusion and placing on the baby’s abdomen.
Romm, Aviva Jill. Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, Berkley, Ca; Celestial Arts, 2003 Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, revised and expanded edition, Santa Fe, NM; Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003 Gladstar, Rosemary. Family Herbal, Massachusetts; Storey Books, 2001
There are several species of Galium in the west. G. aparine, or Cleavers is probably the most common. Other varieties are loosely grouped together and referred to as Bedstraw. Both are used interchangeably and have almost identical constituents and medicinal uses. Cleavers is a short, naturalized annual with square stems that be either smooth or bristly. The leaves are even and whirling. They grow in clump-like mats, trailing over larger herbs and shrubs mostly from a single feeble stem. The larger bedstraws are small erect perennials that grow up to a few feet tall (usually up to a foot in our area). Both Cleavers and Bedstraw have small, white or greenish-white flowers that bloom from May to September and exude a strong, honey-like odor.
Cleavers is a cooling herb. It is cleansing and soothing with a special affinity for the water systems and the skin. Cleavers supports the lymph system promoting drainage of toxins and wastes that are then excreted through the urinary system. Cleavers has a long history of use as a mild, persistent diuretic and is used to treat cystitis, kidney and gall stones, swollen glands, swollen breasts, PMS, mild lymph edema, gout and prostatitis. It has feeble effects on the liver, but is one of the few herbs that may be used during a hepatitis flare-up without fear of irritation. According to Michael Cottingham, Galium’s energy focuses on the smallest of blood vessels bringing healing energy and vitalization. This makes it especially useful in wound healing, both internal and external. Vitalization at the subtlest level brings great healing to the whole.
Externally Cleavers is often added to formulas that protect and enhance the skin. It helps speed healing and eases the discomfort of skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, boils, blemishes, and abscesses and makes an excellent facial wash to tone and reduce wrinkling. (When treating eczema, it is best to also use Galium internally). This is an excellent herb to take both internally and externally when treating eruptive infections such as measles and chicken pox. The fresh leaves can be applied to cuts or wounds to check bleeding and speed healing. The juice or an infusion can be used to bathe varicose ulcers, or the fresh leaves can be made into a poultice. Cleavers will soothe and cool burns, sunburn and inflammatory skin problems. Sam Coffman of the Herbal Medic University uses cleaver stems as a kind of spaghetti or cooked vegetable. All that healing and it tastes yummy too.