Catnip

Description

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a flowering herb valued for its healing properties in a wide range of maladies. Catnip is indigenous to Europe and is now naturalized throughout the United States. It can be identified by the dozens of small white flowers with small purple spots covering its flowering, spiky top. The aromatic herb is a member of the Lamaciae or mint family; in England it is sometimes called catmint. Catnip is harvested in the summer and fall, and dried for medicinal use.

General use

Both the flowering tops and the leaves of the catnip plant are used for medicinal purposes. Catnip is used to treat a variety of symptoms and illnesses, including:

  • Gastrointestinal distress. Catnip has carminative properties, which means that it is helpful in preventing gas and related nausea, colic, and diarrhea.
  • Muscle cramps. The herb's antispasmodic properties promote relaxation of the gastrointestinal muscles, the uterus (for menstrual cramps), and other tight or sore muscles.
  • Nervous disorders. Catnip can be used as a sedative to relieve stress, ease anxiety, relieve the symptoms of migraines and tension headaches, and promote general relaxation.
  • Cold or flu with fever. Catnip is a diaphoretic, which means that it promotes sweating. This property makes it a valuable remedy in treating patients with feverish conditions, including influenza, colds, and bronchitis.
  • Cuts and scrapes. Catnip is an astringent, and can be applied externally to cuts and scrapes to stop bleeding and promote healing.

Preparations

Catnip is most commonly taken as an infusion, or tea. The herb can be purchased in tea bags or in loose, dried form. Tea bag infusions can be prepared according to package directions. When using the dried form of the herb, place 10 tsp of catnip in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, in an infuser, or loose, and submerge it in one liter of boiling water. After steeping the mixture in a covered container for ten minutes, strain the infusion before drinking. The infusion should be steeped in a covered pot to prevent the volatile oils in the catnip from escaping through evaporation.

A second method of infusion is to mix the loose catnip with cold water, bring the mixture to a boil in a covered pan or teapot, and then strain the infusion before drinking. Two to three cups of the catnip infusion can be taken daily. The remaining infusion should be stored in a well-sealed bottle and refrigerated to prevent bacteria and other micro-organisms from contaminating it.

Catnip can be mixed with such other herbs as bone-set (Eupatorium perfoliatum), elder (Sambucus nigra), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and cayenne (Capsicum annuum) in an infusion for treating colds.

Catnip is also available in tincture form to take by mouth or apply topically. A tincture is a herbal preparation made by diluting the herb in alcohol. A catnip tincture or crushed catnip can be applied to a compress to treat cuts and scrapes.

Loose catnip and catnip in tea bags should be stored in an airtight container in a cool location out of direct sunlight to retain potency. Careful storage also prevents the catnip from absorbing odors and moisture.

Precautions

Catnip should always be obtained from a reputable source that observes stringent quality control procedures and industry-accepted good manufacturing practices. Botanical supplements are regulated by the FDA; however, they currently do not have to undergo any approval process before reaching the consumer market. Herbs are presently classified as nutritional supplements rather than drugs. Legislation known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed in 1994 in an effort to standardize the manufacture, labeling, composition, and safety of botanicals and supplements. In January 2000, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) announced a ten-year plan for establishing and implementing these regulations by the year 2010.

Although there are no known side effects or health hazards associated with recommended dosages of catnip preparations, pregnant women, women who breastfeed, and individuals with chronic medical conditions should consult with their healthcare professional before taking catnip or any other herb.

Side effects

Catnip has diuretic properties, and may increase the frequency and amount of urination. It can also cause an upset stomach in some individuals.

Because of the sedative qualities of catnip, individuals taking the herb should use caution when driving or operating machinery.

Interactions

There are no reported negative interactions between catnip and other medications and herbs, although certain drugs with the same therapeutic properties as catnip may enhance its effects.

Resources

BOOKS

Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999.

Medical Economics Corporation. The PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Corporation, 1998.

ORGANIZATIONS

Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. Building 31, Room 1B25. 31 Center Drive, MSC 2086. Bethesda, MD 20892-2086. (301) 435-2920. Fax: (301) 480-1845. http://odp.od.nih.gov/ods/ (Includes on-line access to International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS), a database of published international scientific literature on dietary supplements and botanicals).

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