Herbal Monograph: Catnip, Nepeta cataria

 In Herbalism

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)

Growing range: native to Europe, naturalized throughout North America

Parts used: leaf, flowering top (best harvested in early flower for peak volatile oil content)

Constituents: volatile oils (nepetalic acid, camphor, thymol, carvacrol, citronellal, nerol, geraniol, pulegone), bitter principle, iridoids, tannins

Actions: carminative, antispasmodic, diuretic, diaphoretic, nervine relaxant, astringent, sedative

Taste: acrid, pungent, aromatic

Energetics: both cooling and warming (typical mint family trait!), drying

Pair with:

Fennel for digestion

Lavender for sleep

Elderflower for fevers

Chamomile for cramping and spasm

Doseage: 2-6 mls of tincture (1:5 dry or 1:2 fresh) 3 times daily, for tea steep 2 teaspoons per cup (covered) for 15-20 minutes- drink 3 cups daily

Contraindications: Not to be used for extended periods with small children, high doses should be avoided in pregnancy due to the volatile oil content and historical use as an emmenagogue

Drug interactions: Lithium, sedative medications

Other uses: As an insect repellent! Studies have shown the volatile oils in catnip to be 10 times more effective than DEET.


Many folks are surprised to hear of catnip being used as a medicinal herb. Catnip really isn’t just for cats, it’s for people too! In fact, catnip has the polar opposite effect on humans as it does to our feline friends. While the herb makes cats feisty and frisky, in humans it is a gentle but powerful nervous system relaxant and sedative.

Catnip is one of the classic herbs for a children’s apothecary. It’s typically thought of as the ideal fever remedy for young children, employed either as a bath or tea to promote sweating and open the pores of the skin to release fever. The other aspect that must be considered in caring for feverish children is the nervous system component. Illness can be very distressing for children so turning to herbs which help to relax the child will be supportive to their recovery.

Matthew Wood writes about catnip as being indicated for people who hold tension in their belly and internalize stress to the stomach. This can look like anxiety associated with GI symptoms and a tightening sensation in the gut when presented with a stressful circumstance. Often people who store stress this way end up developing chronic conditions related to the gastrointestinal tract- such as IBS. I write about this as one of those people, the gut is one of my major holding places. Upon taking catnip, I find it creates a diffusive sensation in my core which radiates the tension out to be released. 

As a carminative herb catnip brings warmth to the gut, promoting healthy digestion and easing symptoms of gas and bloating. The antispasmodic qualities are particularly helpful here as well, quite literally relaxing the muscles around the gut to release tension. Using herbs internally is not recommended until an infant is around 6 months old and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract seals. However, catnip may be used as a bath for infants with gas pain.

Catnip is a wonderful herb for helping to fall asleep and improving the overall quality of sleep. In older babies and toddlers, catnip is supportive for teething pain that is disruptive to sleep and leaves the child feeling restless and agitated. Throughout childhood, it can be thought of for circumstances that leave them feeling withdrawn and on edge.



American Chemical Society. (2001, August 28). Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm#:%7E:text=Summary%3A&text=CHICAGO%2C%20August%2027%20%E2%80%94%20Researchers%20report,in%20most%20commercial%20insect%20repellents.

Catnip: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-831/catnip

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine (Illustrated ed.). Healing Arts Press.

Romm, A. J., & Sears, W. (2003). Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health (46312th ed.). Celestial Arts.

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants (Illustrated ed., Vol. 1). North Atlantic Books.


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