What Is Catnip For?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a flowering evergreen shrub native to Europe, Asia and North America. It’s leaves are used medicinally for their sedative properties, but it’s most famous use is its intoxicating effects when chewed or smoked. Its name comes from the Latin word “catina” which means “to chew”. The plant grows up to 20 feet tall and produces white flowers in spring.
The plant contains several alkaloids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). These chemicals have been shown to produce a wide range of therapeutic effects including pain relief, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant and appetite stimulant. They are all considered non-psychoactive and therefore safe for human consumption. Some studies suggest they may even prevent cancer in laboratory animals.
There are many different types of catnip plants, some of them contain higher concentrations of these compounds than others. There are over 100 species of catnip and each one has its own unique taste and smell. The best way to identify a particular type is by looking at the leaves. White flowers appear in spring followed by yellow berries that ripen in summer.
Catnip has a long history of safe use in herbal medicine. It is listed in the German E Commission’s monograph as safe to consume. Its primary use is to relieve stomach pain and cramps. Overdoses have been noted to cause temporary memory loss, but no other side effects have ever been reported.
The tincture can be taken orally or added to food or drinks. It is packed in amber glass bottles to protect it from sunlight or plastic, which can both break down the CBD. For this reason, it must be kept in a cool, dark place.
Catnip Tincture Dosage
For most conditions, a tincture dosage is between 2 and 5 milliliters twice a day (1-2 droppers).
Add it to food or drinks for faster absorption. It has no taste, so you won’t notice it. It can be taken on an ongoing basis for repeat doses without any issues.
The oil can be applied topically to joints or muscles for fast acting relief or mixed with a carrier oil to soothe skin irritations, bruises and insect bites. It is also absorbed well when placed under the tongue. Keep away from naked flames as it can cause burns.
Catnip tea is made from dried or fresh leaves. Use one teaspoon of dried leaves per cup of hot water. Steep for 10 minutes and consume before bed for a restful nights sleep (don’t consume too close to bedtime or you won’t sleep at all.)
The tea can also be used as a facial wash to treat acne and oily skin. It has shown to be more effective than some chemical compounds prescribed by doctors.
As with all herbs, only use organic catnip as non-organic has been shown to be high in heavy metals and other toxic compounds.
What Is Catnip Used For?
Catnip has shown to have the following effects:
Analgesic – pain reliever
Antispasmodic – stops spasms
Anti-inflammatory – reduces swelling and redness
Antimicrobial – kills bacteria and viruses
Antifungal – fights fungi
Antilaryngitic – protects from laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx)
Appetite stimulant – increases your desire to eat
Expectorant – helps you to cough up mucus from your chest
Anticonvulsant – stops epileptic fits
Antidepressant – lifts your mood
Antimigraine – stops headaches
Muscle relaxant – reduces tension and tightness in muscles and joints
Stimulant – increases activity and energy levels
How Does Catnip Work?
Catnip is part of the mint family and contains a chemical called Nepetalactone. This is what causes cats to behave in a strange and unusual fashion when they smell it or consume it. It affects their enjoyment senses. They may roll around, become hyperactive or begin rubbing themselves on everything. They tend to become very affectionate towards humans and other cats.
It should be noted that not all cats respond to Catnip. Some may be immune to its effects, while others may not respond at all. The age of the cat seems to play a role in whether or not they respond to it. Kittens under a month old do not respond at all.
Older kittens and cats that do not receive regular exposure seem to become desensitized to it. They may still react to it, but the impact is much less.
In humans and other animals, an allergic reaction to catnip can cause a rash or hives on the skin. This seems to be inherited, as some cats have no reaction what so ever.
There is a chemical in the Nepetalactone family called Safrole that has been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer causing). For this reason, most commercial preparations contain little or no Safrole.
Catnip is sometimes used as a digestive aid for humans. It is added to tea or drunk on its own with honey to settle the stomach. It has proven effective at treating colic, stomach cramps and diarrhea. It is not a long term solution for these conditions and has the potential to cause further discomfort, but in the short-term it is a very effective way of stopping your stomach from churning.
Does Catnip Have Any Side Effects?
Catnip is generally safe for most adult cats, however, there are some rare side effects that may occur:
Lethargy – This is a rare side effect for most cats, but some may become lethargic after reaching a state of euphoria. Keep the cat away from children or pets if you notice them becoming sleepy after the effects have worn off.
Seizures – In the worst case scenario, some cats will suffer a seizure. This seems to be more common in breeds with a history of epilepsy, however, it can sometimes occur without warning in “normal” cats. If you notice your cat having a seizure, stay calm and move a safe distance away from them. Cover your hands with thick cloth (or something similar) so you don’t get hurt by any thrashing limbs.
Pick the cat up from the floor (or wherever they are) and turn them on their side to prevent any choking. Always take your cat to a veterinarian after a seizure has occurred.
Diarrhea – Again, this is quite rare. It may occur if your cat eats too much Catnip at once. Monitor your cat after giving it Catnip and take it to the veterinarian if diarrhea develops.
Final Note: Always check with your veterinarian before giving your cat any herbal remedy, especially if your cat is elderly, has a health condition or is pregnant.
Catnip can be a fun way to interact with your cat. Not every cat will react to it, but for those that do, it can provide hours of entertainment. It has also been known to stop some cats from scratching furniture or counter tops.
Always be sure to keep fresh water available to your cats at all times.
Catnip can be grown outdoors in pots and indoors in large pots or planters. It prefers damp soil and lots of sunlight. Always make sure the drainage is good if you are growing it in a pot without a drain hole. Trim the plant on a regular basis.
It grows quickly, so trim it back every couple of days or so.
If you notice cats becoming sedate rather than hyper after being around Catnip, then the plant has probably become toxic (it shouldn’t but it can happen). Take the plant away and dispose of it carefully.
Always be sure to wash your hands after handling Catnip. While the oils in the plant don’t tend to remain on human skin, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Sources & references used in this article:
… of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria) by S Bol, J Caspers, L Buckingham… – BMC veterinary …, 2017 – Springer
Insect repellents of natural origin: catnip and osage orange by CJ Peterson – 2001 – lib.dr.iastate.edu
Effect of catnip oil and its major components on the Formosan subterranean termites by K Chauhan, A Raina – Biopesticides International, 2007 – ars.usda.gov