A recent stroll around my backyard revealed that we are growing catnip among the wildflowers we planted several years ago. I was excited to discover this new herb growing wild on our property because catnip has a lot of practical uses for home remedies and herbal medicine. It’s not just for felines! (And that’s good, because my husband is allergic to cats.) While we don’t do much with growing herbs outdoors these days, catnip is one plant I can count on to flourish wherever I grow it.
Growing herbs from seed is how I’ve usually grown my own plants, but growing catnip from seed can be tricky because it has low germination rates. Catnip plants are easily found in garden centers and nurseries. Catnip likes a lot of sun, some water, and good, dark soil. Once you have your catnip plants in your garden or planters, it propagates itself well and will return year after year. Like other members of the mint family, catnip has a tendency to take over when planted outdoors, so harvest as much as you like for use throughout the year.
True catnip (Nepata cataria) is easily recognized by its heart-shaped leaves, tiny white flowers, and distinctive aroma. Anyone who has ever given a cat a toy stuffed with dried catnip can recognize the scent of this useful medicinal herb. Like other herbaceous perennials, it can be used for both food and herbal medicine. Growing catnip as part of your herbal apothecary will give you a highly versatile ingredient for making teas and tinctures that can treat many minor health issues.
Growing Catnip for Herbal Medicine
Why is catnip so effective as a calming herbal medicine? Nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip that causes most cats to act loopy, is the answer. Nepetalactone is actually a mild hallucinogenic, although the effect on humans is far gentler than the effect it has on our feline friends. This substance relieves muscle tension throughout the body and creates a relaxed state of well-being that can actually help us fight off a fever because of colds and flu, improve our digestion, relieve stomach pain and nausea due to stress, tension, and anxiety, and soothe sore, tight muscles.
Catnip is used widely as a way to relieve nervous tension and anxiety. It has a calming, sedative effect when taken as a tea. A cup of warm catnip tea at bedtime can help relieve the jitters of a stressful day and improve your sleep. When stress and anxiety show up as symptoms of gastric distress like a stomach ache or nausea, catnip tea can be used to relieve any discomfort. A cup of catnip tea can also relieve headache from stress or nervous tension.
Growing catnip in your backyard or greenhouse will also give you an effective remedy for reducing fever. Catnip is safe enough to give to children – catnip tea or tincture can be given to help reduce a fever while providing a calming effect that will help the sick child sleep.
Catnip is a gentler alternative for treating constipation than senna, and is an antispasmodic for relieving stomach cramps due to illness and nervous tension. Catnip’s antispasmodic properties also can help ease menstrual cramps and give some mild relief to symptoms of PMS.
When a gall bladder attack feels imminent, a few cups of catnip tea throughout the day can help prevent symptoms from worsening.
In addition to taking catnip internally in the form of tinctures and teas, catnip can be used externally in poultices and compresses to relieve muscle tension and stomach pain. For sore and achy muscles, fresh or dried catnip leaves can also be added to a warm bath to soothe and relieve the pain. Catnip in your bath can also provide minor relief to skin irritations.
Growing Catnip for Bug Repellent
Growing catnip in your garden can help repel common pests, and works wonder for squash bugs and aphids control. It is also an effective deer repellent.
Catnip essential oil can be used topically on the skin when diluted with a carrier oil to repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting flies.
How to Use Catnip as Herbal Medicine
Herbal teas are the easiest way to use catnip as herbal medicine. Catnip is one herb, however, that you don’t want to boil. Instead, boil your water first and remove it from the heat for a few seconds. Then add the catnip leaves and/or flowers and allow the tea to steep for at least 15 minutes before drinking.
You can add any number of other ingredients from this healing herbs list to your catnip tea:
- Willow bark
- Passion flower
For digestive upsets, making a tea of fennel, peppermint, and catnip can provide relief.
Sweeten your catnip tea, if desired, with a small amount of honey.
Growing Catnip: Harvesting, Preserving, and Using Your Catnip
Whether you’re growing catnip outdoors or indoors, you can freely harvest your catnip plants at any time of the year. To dry catnip leaves, you can place them in a commercial dehydrator or spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in your oven at very low temperature (200 degrees or less). Catnip leaves will turn slightly grey-brown and crumble easily in your fingers when they are dehydrated and ready to be stored.
You can also take whole plants and hang them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area that is not in direct sunlight.
To store your dehydrated catnip, place it in an airtight container and store it away from the sun. Dried catnip doesn’t require refrigeration, but you can extend the shelf life of your catnip by storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
What are your tips for growing catnip or using it medicinally? Leave a comment here and share your experiences growing and using this incredibly versatile herb with us.