The Joys of Catnip

Have you talked to your cat about catnip? This familiar minty herb is the psychedelic delight of our feline friends. It’s also a wonderfully calming pain reliever and sleep aid. It settles your stomach and repels mosquitoes too. Catnip grows all over the world and there are several varieties, all of which have similar effects.

Catnip contains a variety of phenols and fatty acids, but the Good Stuff in catnip is nepetalactone. Kitty breathes in this essential fragrance to get high. She may nibble the leaves to release more nepetalactone. But if she eats the leaves, she will go to sleep. Not all cats react to catnip, and those who do don’t all react the same. Some may roll happily on the floor while others dance, bounce off the walls or get feisty.

What Does Catnip Do For Us?

Unfortunately, catnip doesn’t affect humans the same way — as you know if you tried to smoke it or drink it in tea in college. In humans nepetalactone acts as a sedative. Catnip tea is traditionally used to relieve stress, anxiety and insomnia. Women traditionally use it to regulate menstrual periods and stop cramps. Some people even find that it’s good for migraine headaches and arthritis pain.

Catnip is mild enough to be given to children. It’s good for stomach ache, toothache, nausea and diarrhea. Make a paste of the leaves and rub it on baby’s gums when she’s teething. For colic, make an infusion of one teaspoon dried catnip to one cup boiling water, let cool and put about two tablespoons’ worth in her bottle. If your child is nervous or high-strung, try catnip tea before resorting to drugs and their dangerous side effects. Put some in her bath water as well as having her drink it.

Catnip contains other elements which help to flush out toxins from the body, relieve intestinal gas and promote regularity and healthy sweating. The sweating property is called diaphoretic and can become important when you’re ill and have a fever. Like many herbs catnip is a diuretic, reducing bloating from water retention. Its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties make it excellent for poultices to be placed on cuts, scrapes, sprains and bruises.

Catnip leaves can be used dried or fresh. To make a tea, use one to one and a half teaspoons of dried leaves or four or five teaspoons of fresh leaves. Boil your water but allow it to cool slightly before putting the leaves in. For maximum health benefits, steep for about fifteen minutes and drink slowly. Relax and unwind with strong catnip tea in your bath water. Try mixing catnip with hops and chamomile.

Catnip Essential Oil

Unlike fragrance oils, essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts which have been used traditionally to improve mental and physical health for centuries. They can be breathed in or rubbed on to be absorbed through the skin. Catnip essential oil should have most or all of the effects of catnip leaves, but should usually be diluted before use. It is a popular ingredient in homemade soaps, ointments and creams. Put a small amount of catnip oil on zits.

Catnip oil is also an excellent insect repellent. Considered safer and ten times more effective than DEET, it’s in several all-natural commercial sprays. Use about a half teaspoon to a cup of water, and add a cup of vodka or ordinary rubbing alcohol. You can also put in a half teaspoon of citronella oil. Spray this on your clothes when you go out. Some types of cockroaches avoid catnip, so spray your thresholds and baseboards and scatter fresh catnip and bay leaves where they travel.

Grow Your Own

Catnip is a prolific perennial which you can grow from seeds. Sprout some in containers, then transplant to your yard or garden, or keep indoors in pots. Catnip seedlings should be planted about fifteen to twenty inches apart — they’ll spread. They need at least partial sun but do great in full sun. As long as the soil is mildly fertilized and well drained they’ll be fine. Catnip grows very fast and may tend to crowd out other plants, so keep an eye on them. You may need to create some sort of boundary for them using rocks or other plants. Bees love catnip too, so plant some if you are interested in attracting them.

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