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Catmint



Nepeta cataria

Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Herbal Energetics: Cool, calming, earthy, refreshing


 

Overview

Catnip, commonly called catmint and less commonly known as catswort and catwort, is widely used worldwide. Of the Nepeta cataria species, nepeta refers to fragrant plants in the mint family. Some think the city of Nepete (Nepi, Rome as it’s known today) is where the name came from. When people think of catnip, they usually associate it with feline animals, but it can also be used in a variety of ways for humans. Ancient civilizations used it in teas, remedies, and perfumes (1). Healing properties of the plant are found in the essential oils and metabolites ranging in use from defense against microbes and fungi to being a good source of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anodyne (2). Catnip can even be used as an insect repellant while outside for self and garden.


Description

Catnip is native to Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and China. It was brought to places such as North America through trade expansion around 1620 and was considered an essential herb (19). It can grow in planting zones 3-7 tolerating cold temperatures for brief amounts of time, but unable to withstand long periods of extremely low temperatures and ice (17). During the cold months, the plant goes dormant – ariel parts dry up and “die,” but the roots can withstand the ground temperatures and remain healthy. This leafy green plant has small purple flowers and can grow approximately 3ft high and spread about 3ft wide. The leaves are the most used part of the plant for medicinal and therapeutic uses (3). 


Primary Herbal Applications

Catnip is valued for its ability to help treat insomnia and anxiety. Nepeta cataria has a sedative effect due to a compound called nepetalactone. The herb is a fever reducer, a diaphoretic quality to induce sweating thereby cooling the body. Studies have proved its anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, antioxidant, antifungal, and antimicrobial applications.


Catnip tea assists with respiratory flare-ups such as asthma, bronchitis, and the common cough (4). From tea, tincture, poultice, stews, sauces, and a variety of dishes that call for a minty flare, this herb is diverse (3).


Catnip historically has been used for digestion, refrigerant (cools the body) anodyne (relieves pain), cold remedy, and treatment for hives. It was used as a tonic for pain and rheumatism, an infusion for whooping cough and measles, and tea for asthma, yellow fever, scarlet fever, smallpox, and jaundice.


Catnip is extremely beneficial in the garden as it acts as an insect repellant against many species of bugs such as beetles, ants, aphids, and more. It is also believed to deter mice, voles, and deer due to the herb’s strong scent. Aside from protecting garden plants, it is highly attractive to honeybees allowing for pollination (24).


History

Catnip has been a part of traditional medicine in the Himalayan region of India, Pakistan, Nepal, China, and Iran. These regions used N. cataria to treat chicken pox, tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, influenza, measles, stomach disorders, common colds, and breathing disorders (20). When combined with tobacco and smoked, it was found to induce auditory and visual hallucinations. Traditionally, Indian tribes in North America used Nepeta cataria to treat a variety of ailments. The Chippewa used it to treat coughs, colds, and stomach upset along with sore throats vomiting, and diarrhea. Other tribes used it to cure pneumonia, convulsions, and to relieve oral pains. Some cultures also smoked it to relieve respiratory ailments (4).

 

Spiritual Energetics

In the Northeast, catnip is primarily harvested in mid-summer, and associated with a sense of happiness and rejuvenation that summer often brings. It is believed to calm restlessness and is useful when feeling emotional resistance in the body and mind. It softens perceived boundaries, helps to eliminate apprehension, and promotes contentment (25).

 

Harvesting

When harvesting, wait until the catmint has begun flowering. In the Northeast, it flowers between July and September. The leaves should also be a rich green with an obvious minty odor. It has been found that the best harvests are completed on a dry day or week to avoid excess moisture in the leaves and flowers. Many have found that the essential oils are in their best state in the middle to late morning, so it is best to harvest around that time.


To harvest catnip, cut it at the base of the stem, leaving the leaves intact. Try to only harvest 1/4-1/3 of the plant at a time to allow for healthy regrowth and optimal harvests each season. To dry the herb, tie the stems together with string or twine and hang them upside down in a cool, dark place. Once dry, you can store them in airtight packages or containers with labels. If you would like to use fresh leaves for your teas or tinctures remove the leaves and flowers from the stems and use them immediately (5).


Preparations & Suggested Dosages

The most common way to consume catnip is tea. This is done by heating 1 cup of water and once at a boil, add 2 teaspoons of leaves or flowers. If you want a more potent fragrant tea, use the flowers. Cover the water and herb mixture and allow it to steep for several minutes. Strain the liquid into your drinking cup and enjoy (8).


To create a tincture gather your catnip, menstruum (vodka preferable), and a jar that can be sealed. The type of alcohol menstruum you use can affect the flavor. Ethanol and vodka have a natural flavor. Rum, bourbon, tequila, and brandy produce a sweet taste while gin is herbaceous, and whiskey is dry (7). Place the chopped herbs in a mason jar and fill your jar to the top with your menstruum. Allow several minutes for menstruum and leaves to settle and top off the jar with added menstruum if there is still room. Avoid leaving chopped herbs exposed to the air for it can cause oxidation and hinder some of the effects of the herbs. Seal your jar and place it in a dark, cool place for 4-6 weeks. Pantries or cabinets are great places for storing your jars. After 4-6 weeks, decant your liquid through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into a dark glass bottle to remove any solid particles. Press the leaves to extract any further liquid and add them to your class bottle. Make sure to label your bottle and store it in a cool, dry, and dark place (16).


Another way to use catnip is by doing a long infusion. Long infusions are similar to tea in that the ariel parts are steeped, but it is instead for a much longer duration. To do this, you need about 1 ounce of dried herbs per 32 ounces of water. Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the herbs in the mason jar. The goal is to let the herbs steep thoroughly to allow for a stronger infusion. The best method is to let them steep overnight. Once it has sat for the preferred time, strain out the solid particles and drink your infusion. It’s important to note that leaves should be infused for a minimum of 4 hours while flowers need a minimum of 2 hours (7,21).


Chemistry

Nepeta cataria has several components to it, the main one most referred to is nepetalactone. Other components include caryophyllene oxide, citronellyl acetate, alkaloids, actinidine, and a few others (9). It also contains flavonoids and phenolic acids such as caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, coumaric acid, thymol, and pinene (10). Flavonoids, specifically, are well known for their anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. Flavonoids are used commercially in many cosmetic products to reduce wrinkling and signs of aging while enforcing a strong skin barrier (11).  


Pharmacological Actions

Nepeta cataria has muscle-relaxing properties and is an antispasmodic herb by way of inhibiting calcium channels and the ability to induce vasodilation and increase blood flow. Affected calcium channels do not offer the charge, or action potential, inhibiting neuron firing and muscle contractions.


Researchers have tested the herb’s anticancer properties by using extracted flavonoids on lung cell tissue. They found that it can disturb the MicroRNA-126 gene and regulate the PI3K-AKT pathway to induce the effect of anti-cancer mechanisms (13). MicroRNA-126 gene has been documented to control the growth of cancer cells in the lungs, migration, cell entry, and ability to destroy themselves (23). The PI3K-AKT pathway is important for regulating the cell cycle such as growth, repair, and metabolism. Dysregulation of the PI3K-AKT pathway has been linked to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and more (22). Cancer is the uncontrolled multiplication of cells so by controlling the pathway, theoretically, researchers can learn how to limit uncontrolled cell division and therefore decrease cancer rates. Through this research, they concluded that Nepeta cataria flavonoid extracts could be used in non-small cell lung cancer and observed the cytotoxic activities of certain extracts on human prostate and breast cancer cells (13).


The scent of catnip attracts cats, an aphrodisiac, and when eaten, is believed to cause hallucinations which are exhibited by spontaneous vocalization. However, there is no concrete evidence that it is estrous behavior as the gonadal state and neutering do not affect the response (12). For more regarding animals, researchers found that using N. cataria hydrosol in pigs can limit viral replication of the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PPSRV) and reduce the severity of the reproductive and respiratory implications associated with the illness (2). In mice, they found it reduced edema around injection sites which implies that it has anti-inflammatory properties. In rabbits, researchers found that it has calcium channel blocking properties which can reduce muscle contractions and soothe. In guinea pigs, it was found to have PDE inhibitor actions which means it can relax and dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow. This proves that it possesses spasmolytic and myorelaxant properties (13). Researchers are attempting to apply these PDE inhibitor actions to humans for biological issues such as hypertension and erectile dysfunction.


Contradictions

It is recommended to avoid using catnip if you have a known allergy to plants in the mint family or taking sedative-type drugs as it may increase their sedative effects. Some possible drug interactions include anticonvulsants, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, OTC drugs that contain diphenhydramine, and other sleeping aids as it has the potential to increase their effects and make the user increasingly drowsy (10).


 


This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure disease.


References:

1 Jensen, A. (2023, November 12). Exploring The Origin Of Catnip: Where Is It Native. Shuncy: Love the Green. Retrieved January 25, 2024, from https://shuncy.com/article/where-is-catnip-native

2 Nadeem, A., Shahzad, H., Ahmed, B., Muntean, T., Waseem, M., & Tabassum, A. (2022). Phytochemical profiling of antimicrobial and potential antioxidant plant: Nepeta cataria. Frontiers in Plant Science, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2022.969316

3 (n.d.). Nepeta cataria. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved January 22, 2024, from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=e433

4 Verma Pargaien, M., Bisht, N., Joshi, H., Pargaien, S., & Ashikari, M. (2020). Analysis of ethanomedicinally potential extract of Nepeta cataria. Ecology, Environment and Conservation Journal, (ISSN 0971-765X). http://www.envirobiotechjournals.com/EEC/Vol26OctSuppl20/EEC-15.pdf

5 Braun, M. (2023, October 1). The Ideal Guide on How and When To Harvest Catnip For Maximum Potency. Shuncy: Love the Green. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from https://shuncy.com/article/how-and-when-to-harvest-catnip#:~:text=Once%20you%20have%20determined%20that%20your%20catnip%20is,and%20store%20them%20in%20an%20airtight%20container.%20

6 C. (2014, September 2). Making Catnip (Nepeta cataria) Tincture. Spiraea. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from https://spiraeaherbs.ca/making-catnip-nepeta-cataria-tincture/

7 Neves, L. (2020). Northeast Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use (1st ed.). Timber Press, Inc.

8 Cronkleton, E., & Marengo, K. (2021, September 29). What are the risks and benefits of catnip tea? Retrieved January 26, 2024, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/catnip-tea#uses

9 Gilani, A. H., Shah, A. J., Zubair, A., Khalid, S., Kiani, J., Ahmed, A., Rasheed, M., & Ahmad, V. U. (2009). Chemical composition and mechanisms underlying the spasmolytic and bronchodilatory properties of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria L. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 121(3), 405-411. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2008.11.004

10 Zelman, K. M. (2023, March 23). Catnip Tea: Are There Health Benefits? WebMD. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/catnip-tea-health-benefits

11 Ullah, A., Munir, S., La Badshah, S., Khan, N., Ghani, L., Poulson, B., Emwas, A. H., & Jaremko, M. (2020). Important Flavonoids and Their Role as a Therapeutic Agent. Molecules 2020, 25. https://doi.org/10.3390

12 Grognet J. (1990). Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne31(6), 455–456.

13 Acimovic, M., Zeremski, T., Kiprovski, B., Brdar-Jokanovic, M., Popovic, V., Koren, A., & Sikora, V. (2021). Nepeta cataria - Cultivation, Chemical Composition, and Biological Activity. Journal of Agronomy, Technology and Engineering Management. https://doi.org/21000

14 Forager, J. (2019, May 1). Catmint, a Useful and Irresistible Herb. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from https://eattheplanet.org/catmint-a-useful-and-irresistible-herb/

 

16 Ruth, T. (2023, May 2). Herb Notes: The Benefits of Catnip. Learning Herbs. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://learningherbs.com/medicinal-uses-of-herbs/catnip-benefits/

17 Ruth (2017, December 19). Everything You Need to Know About Planting Zones. Woodies Garden Goods. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://gardengoodsdirect.com/blogs/news/all-about-planting-zones#:~:text=If%20a%20plant%20belongs%20to%20hardiness%20zones%20three,and%20will%20likely%20perish%20in%20the%20desert%20heat.

18 Gotter, A., & Butler, N. (2018, September 18). Catnip Tea. Healthline. Retrieved January 23, 2024, from https://www.healthline.com/health/catnip-tea

19Hevelingen, A. (1955). Catnip and Cousins: Best Known Species of Nepeta. Retrieved February 26, 2024 from Catnip and Cousins: Best Known Species of Nepeta - Mother Earth Living

20 Sharma, A., Cooper R., Bhardwaj, G., Cannoo, D. (2021). The genus Nepeta: Traaditional uses, phytochemicals and pharmacological properties. Retrieved February 16, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2020.113679

21 Jeanroy, A. (2022). How to Make Herbal Infusions. Retrieved February 17, 2024 from How to Make Herbal Infusions (thespruceeats.com)

22 Brown, K and Toker, A. (2016). PI3K/Akt Signaling. Retrieved on February 17, 2024 from PI3K Akt Pathway | Cell Signaling Technology

23 Chen, Q., Chen, S., Zhao, J., Zhou, Y., Zu, L. (2021). MicroRNA-126: A new and promising player in lung cancer. Retrieved on February 17, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.3892%2Fol.2020.12296

24 Grant, B. (2021). Companions For Catnip: Learn About Plants To Grow With Catnip. Retrieved on February 17, 2024 from Catnip Companion Plants – Using Catnip As A Pest Repellant And Good Neighbor | Gardening Know How

25 (2023). Whispering Roots. Retrieved on February 20, 2024 from  https://www.whisperingrootsapothecary.com/products/catnip-flower-essence

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