Catnip: Everything You Need To Know

Catnip: Everything You Need To Know

Catnip has been used traditionally within various cultures as a medicinal herb. Although the research is early, interesting results are emerging as to why catnip produces its relaxing effects.

What is Catnip?

Catnip, also called catmint and catswort, is herb most famously known for being able to send cats into nirvana. Felines seem irresistibly attracted to the scent of this herb, and usually proceed to roll around in it before chowing down. Once the effects set in, cats seem to experience an intense altered state of consciousness; their pupils widen, they become erratic, and usually start to move around with speed. Although it’s fun to watch cats enjoy the effects of this seemingly psychoactive herb, there is much more to this plant species than feline entertainment.

Catnip, known by its scientific name Nepeta cataria, has been used historically throughout certain cultures as a medicinal herb, and is still employed by some people today in attempts to improve digestion and relax muscles. The species belongs to the same family of plants as many mints and deadnettles (the Lamiaceae family) and is highly prolific in nature, found within its native regions of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and certain regions of China. The plant has also spread beyond its home range into Northern Europe, North America, and New Zealand.

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The effects of catnip

The Effects Of Catnip

Catnip doesn’t quite have the same intoxicating effects on humans as it does cats, but it still makes for a very useful tonic. It is a mild sedative, but it won’t get you high. However, the relaxing qualities make it ideal to calm down after a stressful day. This combined with its rich vitamin and mineral content has led it to be used as a modern day digestive aid, as well as a detoxifier, reliever of anxiety, stress, headaches and troubled sleep.

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The idea of using catnip as an herbal supplement might seem somewhat strange to those who are only familiar with its effect on cats. The plant has earned its name for this very reason, but this doesn’t mean its use falls exclusively within this species. Humans use catnip for a variety of reasons and administer it in a range of different ways, from tea to herbal preparations. Although its use is no longer widespread, modern science has probed the herb and discovered some interesting results. It should be noted that the research in this domain is still in the early stages, has mainly been conducted on animals, and isn’t a direct representation of the effects of this herb within a human. Below are several evidence-based uses of catnip.


Muscle Spasm Relief Catnip

Catnip has been found to reduce spasms within smooth muscle (a muscle type found within organs) and induce relaxation within skeletal muscles. A paper1 published within the Journal of Ethnopharmacology documents a study that investigated the anti-spasm effect of catnip essential oil. The oil of the herb was found to contain four major constituents: cineol, alpha-humulene, alpha-pinene, and geranyl acetate. The oil was tested on animal tissue such as trachea and jejunum, and spasmolytic and myorelaxant activity was observed. This effect was thought to be partly related to inhibition of calcium channels, structures that play an important role in muscle contraction.

The authors of the paper conclude by stating that this physiological action may explain why catnip was used traditionally to treat colic, diarrhoea, cough, and asthma.


Catnip May Ease Depression

Depression is defined as a feeling of severe despondency and dejection. The condition has no exact cause, yet has various risk factors including stress, personality, and family history. Numerous treatments exist, including many forms of therapy and counselling, exercise, cultivating a stronger connection to nature, and various forms of medication. Current research regarding catnip and depression is extremely scarce and therefore does not suggest use as an effective treatment. However, animal studies do provide a glimpse into how this herb could potentially be harnessed as a treatment for depressive symptoms in the future.

A team of researchers found that catnip displayed antidepressant-like effects in mice. A study2 published within the journal Psychology & Neuroscience explored the antidepressant, anxiety inducing, and motor activity effects of short-term and long-term feeding of chow enriched with 10% catnip. It was found that mice showed improved scores in behavioural despair tests. The results of this study suggest that catnip has antidepressant properties.


Catnip Can Boost Relaxation

A fresh cup of catnip tea might be just what you need after a long and hectic day. Traditional uses for catnip include the treatment of nervous problems, precisely because of its relaxing effects. The main chemical constituent of catnip is nepetalactone, a molecule very similar to those found within the herb valerian, which is also well-known for the state of calm it induces. The essential oil of catnip is reported3 to contain between 70–99% nepetalactone, making the herb an extremely rich source. The calming effects are associated with preparations made using the leaves of the herb. In contrast, ingesting the roots is reported to bring about a more stimulating effect.


Catnip Acts As A Natural Insect Repellent

If you plan on going camping or simply fancy a brisk walk in nature, it might be a wise idea to bring along some homemade catnip insect repellent in case you come across a swarm of mosquitoes. The molecule responsible for catnip’s relaxing properties, nepetalactone, has also been shown to be highly effective at deterring irritating mosquitoes. In fact, the herb seems to far outperform commercial brands of chemical insect repellents. Researchers4 found that essential oil of catnip was approximately 10 times more effective than DEET in this domain.


How To Use Catnip

Catnip can be consumed in numerous ways. The most common way to consume the herb is in tea form. Tea bags of the herb can be purchased, or dried leaves can be placed into a steel infuser. A simple recipe for making catnip tea is 1 teaspoon of dried leaves along with 1 cup of boiling water.

The herb has also been traditionally smoked to produce its desired effects. Those inclined to smoke the herb could prepare it using rolling papers, or may opt for a vaporizer to minimise exposure to carcinogens. Vaporizing catmint will ensure you get a great deal of its active content, but it will be a shorter lived effect then if it were a tea. The ideal temperature for vaporising catnip is between 100 – 150 degrees Celsius.

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It’s suggested to do your own research before choosing to smoke catnip, as it is regarded as possibly unsafe when administered in this way. High doses are associated with vomiting and headaches. It’s best to start with small doses at first to see how your body responds.


Botany Catnip

Catnip is a perennial plant that grows to between 50–100cm in height and similar in width. As a member of the mint family, catnip looks very similar to common mint species, with green leaves that are wide at the base and taper into a point. These leaves are accompanied by small flowers in the blooming period that sport pretty colours of pink and white, along with fine purple spots.


Catnip has been used for hundreds of years by native populations within traditional medicine systems. European cultures used the herb to calm nervousness, induce restorative sleep, treat restlessness, support healthy digestion, and soothe stomach pains. The herb was also wrapped in clothes and used as a poultice to topically treat wounds.


Safety Catnip

Catnip is regarded as mostly safe when ingested orally by healthy adults in small quantities. However, high doses and smoked catnip are generally regarded as possibly unsafe, resulting in headaches, vomiting, and a feeling of general unwellness.

Catnip is regarded as possibly unsafe for children and mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The effects of catnip on uterine contractions during pregnancy may cause a miscarriage. For this reason, women with heavy menstrual periods and pelvic inflammatory disease should also avoid catnip.

The herb should also be avoided approximately two weeks before surgery as its effects on the central nervous system may interact negatively with anaesthetics.

We are not making medical claims. This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources.