Catnip, Nepeta cataria; (Labiatae)
The root is perennial and sends up square, erect and branched stems, two to three feet high, which are very leafy and covered with a mealy down. The heart-shaped, toothed leaves are also covered with a soft, close down, especially on the underside, which are quite white with it, so that the whole plant has a hoary, grayish appearance.
The flowers grow on short footstalks in dense whorls, which toward the summit of the stem are so close as to almost form a spike. They bloom from July to September. The individual flowers are small, the corollas two-lipped, the upper lip straight, of a whitish, pale-pink, or pale-lavender color. The calyx tube has fifteen ribs, a distinguishing feature of the genus Nepeta, to which this species belongs.
Any mother with a colicky baby will welcome the news that Catnip is a superior remedy for colic. Although relatively little seems to be written about Catnip, for parents raising children it is a most necessary herb, relieving pain and relaxing little bodies.
Catnip has an aromatic, characteristic odor, kind of a cross between Mint and Pennyroyal. It gets its name from cat-nepeta, referring to the species, although we wonder if it isn't because the cats like to nip it! Nearly all felines, from “the rangiest alley cat to the fiercest mountain lion, are known to have a passionate affinity for catnip” (Hyl:398). Nearly every common name for this herb contains the word “cat”: catnip, catnap, catmint, nip, catnip, cat's wort-and field balm, the odd man out. Cats will only attack the herb if it's bruised or broken and for this reason, Grieve suggests that transplanting the herb is less sure than seeding it, as the herb grown from seeds is never molested by rolling felines. `The old saying goes:
“If you set it, the cats will eat it,
“If you sow it, the cats won't know it” (Grieves -Modern Herbal 174).
Not only cats delight in catnip, but caterpillars and grasshoppers seem to seek it out. However, it is sturdy, and unless some really enthusiastic cat gets a whiff of it, catnip will recover from marauders.
Before the use of processed tea from China, Catmint tea was brewed by the English peasantry for their everyday beverage-a much more wholesome brew than tea1 It was also used to mask the smell of meat that had been salted or cool-stored over the winter (Dawson: 51). In France, the leaves and young shoots are used for seasoning; it is a regular kitchen-herb there (Grieves -Modern Herbal 174).
In legend, Catnip root, when chewed, is said to make the most gentle person quarrelsome(Tob: 13). There is a legend about a certain hangman who could never gather enough courage to hang anybody until he had chewed some catnip root (Grieves -Modern Herbal 174). Rats dislike the scent intensely-and so it might be used around the garden to repel rodents.
Culpeper said that “the juice drunk in wine is good for bruises,” and that “the green leaves bruised and made into an ointment is effectual for piles,” and that “the head washed with a decoction taketh away scabs, scurf, etc.” (Grieves -Modern Herbal 174). Like the other mints, it is under the guidance of the planet Venus, characterized by comfort and ease (Daisley:42).
Dr. Christopher classed Catnip among the diaphoretics, herbs which induce perspiration and promote cleansing. Diaphoresis is all excellent way to cleanse a toxic condition and restore health as the millions of pores in the skin release poisons rapidly. Especially when the internal organs are inflamed, diaphoresis will send the blood flow outward and release toxins and infection.
Diaphoretics are given warm or nearly hot, especially to patients who are warmly-covered or ill a hot tub. Catnip would be an excellent herb to use during the Cold Sheet Treatment, especially as it will relax the patent and prepare him for sleep.
Catnip is therefore prime for use in colds, and especially for fevers, because it will produce perspiration without raising the body temperature and helps the patient sleep. When young children suffer from fevers and will not take herb tea very well, prepare a small injection (small enema) of warm catnip tea. We have had children retain several of these enemas without expelling during high fevers, and thus absorbing the relaxant and sleeping well--a marvelous healing aid.
A cup of catnip tea drunk in hot weather will help the sufferer cool off, as the sweat induced will evaporate and cool the skin.
Catnip also works to relieve pain and relax a tense individual. As mentioned previously, it is a sure remedy for baby's colic; use as a sweetened tea with honey, given from a baby bottle or an eyedropper, as a very small and carefully administered enema, or even given as a capsule for the teething baby to chew on. You can also purchase a tincture or extract of catnip and fennel, which can be administered by the drop to the suffering baby; be careful with this, however, so as not to give too much. It relieves pain of any kind, advised Kloss, effective in insanity, fits, hysterical headaches, spasms, and prevents gas and griping in the bowels (Klo:2 15).
Used as an injection, it will relieve headache and hysteria and reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. It. will help bring on late menstruation and regulate overabundant menstruation, although Grieve suggests that the expressed juice from the leaf works better for this purpose than the infusion (Grieves -Modern Herbal 174,).
The young tops, she advised, made into a conserve, help relieve nightmares (Ibid.), and the candied leaves may be used as an after-dinner treat which will also work as a carminative. Sprinkle raw sugar on catnip leaves coated with a glaze of equal parts of egg white and lemon juice and allow to dry at least a day before using (Hyl:399). Of course, a cup of the tea served after a large meal can serve the same purpose.
Catnip, sweetened with honey, serves as an effective cough medicine. Mixed with Saffron, it is excellent in scarlet fever, small pox, colds, etc. (Hut: 73). It expels worms, especially if given in the form of an injection. It allays restlessness and helps sleepless children settle down for the night. Mixed with Balm and Marshmallow, it provides all excellent baby remedy which can, according to Kloss, save mothers many sleepless nights and doctor's bills (Klo:2 15).
In cases of depressed or low vitality, Dr. Christopher recommended mixing Catnip with Virginia snake root or Canada snake root. Ginger, which also works against flatulence, is an excellent herb to intensify the action of Catnip (SNH:23 6).
Catnip works to build the adrenal glands in depressed persons and relaxes the exhausted condition. It also helps in morning sickness and is an excellent remedy for preventing miscarriages (Malstrom:84).
Applied locally, it gives a sense of warmth and partial anesthesia, for which reason it is used for toothache and other localized pain.
Nearly every source recommends the use of Catnip as an enema, and indeed the Catnip enema is an herbalist's mainstay in most of the common illnesses. Administer the enema slowly, at blood-warm temperature, and retain it as long as possible, to allow the medicinal effects to absorb. For those unaccustomed to the use of enemas, it will be interesting that when people are not able to eat, they have been kept alive by the use of herbal enemas and oil massages, until they healed enough to be able to eat normally!
MOSTLY FOR CATS
Although some insects relish Catnip-including bees, so it is an excellent planting to attract those friendly insects-mainly cats make a beeline for this herb, if it is ever bruised or crushed. To amuse yourself as well as your feline, plant a row in your herb garden for your pet, bruise it a bit, and watch him or her roll, paw, bite and rub it all over in ecstasy. You can even make a Catnip toy for your kitty-instead of buying one, as they are rather expensive. Cut two pieces of firm material, possibly in the shape of a ball or a mouse, sew them together firmly, leaving a gap at one side, and turn right side out. Stuff with dried Catnip and sew up the edge, with a piece of string attached for the cat to play with. Don't add beads or buttons or bristles for whiskers, as they may be swallowed (Dawson:52).
Some recommend smoking the herb for its medicinal effects, although this is said to cause headache if overdone (Michael Tierra (The way of Herbs): 87); others report hallucinogenic properties less severe than marijuana when smoked (Hei:53). However, smoke of any kind can damage the lungs.
As in France, you can cook with Catnip; in fact, novices often mistake the wild herb for mint and try cooking with it, often with surprising results. Here, however, are two trustworthy recipes.
1 pound zucchini
2 ounces of olive oil
½ ounce fresh catnip, finely chopped
Wash the zucchini and trim off the ends. Slice and saute in the olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Season, then cover and cook until tender. Before serving, sprinkle with catnip.
Grapefruit and Catnip Dessert
2 medium grapefruit
4 ounces honey
1 teaspoon chopped catnip
1 1/2 pints cold water
Peel off the grapefruit rind very thinly, taking care to avoid the white pith. Put into a blender. Remove pith and discard. Coarsely chop the grapefruit flesh and add to blender with the honey, Catnip, and cold water. Blend until the mixture is light green. Strain into stemmed glasses and refrigerate until well chilled. Garnish with a sprig of Catnip (Dawson:52 for both recipes).
CULTIVATION, COLLECTION, PREPARATION
Catnip is easily grown in any garden soil, and does not require the high moisture required by the other mints. Its seeds resemble basil seeds, but can be distinguished by a little white speck on one side. You can start Catnip either by seed or by root division, in the spring or fall. You can plant outdoors in late April or early May, or earlier indoors if you're willing to risk bruising the plants and attracting cats while transplanting--which is quite likely!
To seed, rows should be eighteen inches apart, with plants thinned to twelve inches in the rows. Catnip develops quickly and requires no attention, but will appreciate a light mulch (Hyl:400).
Root division can produce up to four new plants from a single old one. It is best to do it in early spring, planting as soon as you dig and divide the plant (Ibid).
Catnip has escaped cultivation in most parts of the United States and in other countries and can be found growing wild in most fields and orchards. Many wandering herbalists collect it as a standard, valuable wild medicinal.
Harvest the plants just before they burst into flower for best quality and flavor, although they can be used from spring through autumn, after flowering. Do not gather the plant if it has turned yellow, however. You can gather and dry the whole plant, crumbling the leaves off when dry, or you can strip the leaves off first.
Dry in the shade, not in the sun, so that the volatile oils will not evaporate. It will take about two or three days (Hyl:40 1). Be sure to bring it in as soon as it is dry so that it will not collect dust. Crush it slightly, to fit into an airtight container and store away from light.
To use the Catnip, always infuse it without even a slight simmer, as the oils will easily evaporate off. You can also use the herb to make a tincture, either fresh or dried, using the usual method, with alcohol rather than with vinegar.
Researchers, aware that Catnip is widely distributed and available throughout the world and available from a wide variety of commercial sources (i.e. pet stores, supermarkets, seed stores, herb stores), were concerned because of its hallucinogenic effect, which is less intense than marijuana but resembles it. They felt that Catnip could be abused as a hallucinogen, and decided to administer it to baby chicks, because their repertoire of behavior is limited and the herb's effect could be easily observed.
They used a solid extract of catnip herb, diluted and injected into the chicks. At the smaller doses, no effects were observed. With larger doses, the chicks slept more, both light and heavy sleep. At quite high levels, the animals all seemed to sleep little.
The article recommended isolating and identifying the active agents which caused these effects (“The effect of an ethanol extract of catnip [Nepeta cataria] on the behavior of the young chick,” Experientia, 15 Feb. 1979, pp. 237±).
Another similar study, mentioning that Catnip had been recognized by the official American compendia since 1842 until 1950, analyzed Catnip for its active agents. It found that the major constituent of freshly-prepared Catnip oil is nepetalactone, up to 78%, a cyclopentanoid monoterpene related to the irdoid compounds.
This article reported that Catnip has been used as a substitute for marijuana; users appeared “happy, contented, and intoxicated”; several subjects also reported “visual and auditory hallucinations.”
This study, recalling similar effects on cats, used Catnip oil, nepetalactone and nepetalic acid on animals to determine the behavioral and toxicological properties of these substances.
DR. CHRISTOPHER'S COMBINATIONS CONTAINING CATNIP
AT-GS, the combination to assist digestion, and relieve flatulence, contains Catnip. The Catnip and Fennel Extract contains Catnip, of course, as does Kid-E-Col.