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Catmint, Nepeta cataria { Past and present medicinal uses}

Updated on August 1, 2015

Individual flower



Nepeta cataria, the Catmint is also known by several country names such as Catnip, Cat'swort,and much older names such as Catnep, belongs to the family of plants known as the Lamiaceae { the mint family}. The generic name seems to have derived from one or more possible sources, Nepi ,a town in Italy , or from Nepa a scorpion, for whose bite the plant was reputed antidote.

It is said to be eaten by sheep but refused by cows,horses and goats. These plants commonly found favour in the cottage garden and cultivation has brought varieties suitable for such locations. It is closely related to the Ground ivy { see my hub} which was once referred to as Nepeta glechoma. Although a plant of Europe it has naturalized in many parts of North America.

The plant has a medicinal history as we shall discover. we commence as always with a description of the subject under review.

Illustration of Neptea cataria

Deutschland flora in Abbildungen
Deutschland flora in Abbildungen | Source

Description of Nepeta cataria

The roots of this species is perennial by nature,long,woody,with numerous slender ,long fibres. It is a blackish colour externally. From this root system arise square,and branched stems which attain the height of 2-3 feet {30-60 cm.}. They are very leafy and covered by a mealy down.

The heart shaped ,toothed leaves are also covered with a soft,short down,especially on the under sides,making them appear white. The leaves are arranged opposite to each other and are stalked.

The flowers grow on short stalks in dense whorls, which towards the top almost form a spike. They bloom from July to September. The individual flowers are small. The corolla is two lipped, the upper one straight of a whitish or pale pink dotted with red spots, . The colour of the flowers vary and in some plants, the overall affect is a blue. The calyx {sepals etc} has 15 ribs, a distinguishing feature of the genus Nepteta.

The plant has an aromatic,characteristic odour which some say bears some resemblance to that of both mint and Pennyroyal. The palnt is found on hedge banks , by roadsides,especially in gravelly or chalky soils in many parts of England , it is rarer in Scotland.

Catnip in flower


Cat in Israeli garden

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2.5 generic license ,2.0 generic license and 1.0 generic license | Source

General information

It appears that this plant has a fascination to cats {or at least to many of them} giving rise to the old saying about this plant. " if you set it, the cats will eat it,if you sow it, the cats don't know it." Past gardeners stated that plants transplanted are always destroyed by cats {unless protected} but they 'never meddle' with plants sown from seeds. Those same gardeners convey that rats will not touch it and to protect vegetables a cordon of Catmint should be sown around them. Sowing up cat toys with the dried foliage of this herb helps to keep them entertained.

So why the fascination for cats? the plant contains the feline attractant nepetalactone . Not all cats are affected by Catmint and the fascination appears to hereditary. Cats can be observed rubbing against Catmint when they sense the bruised foliage. They may also roll on the ground pawing at it, licking it and chewing it. However, studies have revealed that if cats eat to much of this species, they begin to drool and adverse reactions can include sleepiness and anxiety. Some even resort to aggression biting at the hand of anyone trying to comfort it. The adverse affects usually pass within a quarter of an hour. other plants are thought to have a similar affect on cats including Valerian.

Foliage of Catmint

{Plants of Hawaii}
{Plants of Hawaii} | Source

Past medicinal uses and historical observations.

Catmint is sadi to have a bitter taste and a strong smell. The active ingredient was extracted by both water and rectified spirit, more completely by the latter it would seem. distillation by water yielded a yellowish, essential oil, which diffused a strong and penetrating odour, and aromatic qualities.

It might be expected that a plant which exercises so powerful an influence on the animal economy could not be destitute of medicinal properties and many assert that it has been cosigned to unmerited oblivion.

In France the young shoots and foliage were utilized as a seasoning and was thus,regularly grown as a garden herb. Miss Bardswell in her book ' The Herb Garden' wrote " before the use of tea from China our English peasantry were in the habit of brewing Catmint tea, which they say is quite pleasant and a good deal more wholesome"

Conversely, it was said that if the root was chewed it would make " the most gentle person fierce and quarrelsome" herman Boecler { Cynosura Mat. Med. Vol 1 page 470} and Gillbert { Demonstrations. Vol ii page 79}, speak of its efficacy in chlorosis, hysteria and amenorrhaea , and it was chiefly used in utrerine and dyspeptic disorders that its virtues have been celebrated.

It has been administered in aqueous or vinous infusions, fomentations, injections, lavements and baths. A drink formed by boiling the plant in hydronet has been recommended for allaying obstinate coughs. As a remedy for jaundice { Flora Medicale vol ii page 184} the expressed juice has been given in the dose of two ounces at a time , but the extract made into pills with a small proportion of aloes was considered a more eligible form.

Culpeper,in the 17th century conveys that the juice drunk in wine id good for bruises. It has, in the past been smoked either with tobacco or alone or has a substitute for marijuana. It was also smoked to alleviate the symptoms of asthma.

The above information is for historical interest only and not meant as a guide for self medication.

Nepeta cataria-a paler form


Modern day uses

The essential oil is nepetalactone which is considered to be an effective mosquito and cockroach repellent. It is also considered to be anti-fungal.

An infusion can be produced as a tea, but beware because large doses can give hallucinatory effects, depending upon its strength. because the 'tea' ,when administered in the correct doses has a sedative effect a cup before bedtime allows an undisturbed nights sleep.

When taken in the form of a hot tea it was used to induce perspiration which helps to reduce fevers and works in the form of a decongestant. The herb is also used to alleviate tension, wind and colic pain. A hot Catmint infusion is said to work as an antiseptic inhalent for sore throats, coughs and colds. These antiseptic properties also help in the treatment of skin conditions. The tannin in Catmint helps to accelerate the process of repairing damaged tissues and stop hemorrhages from grazes and cuts.

Pregnant women and those enduring disorders related to their menstrual cycle should avoid this herb.

Foragers---until the 13th century, Catnip was a very common herb of the cottage gardens of England. records show that the leaves were rubbed on to meats prior to cooking. They were also utilized in salads, the leaves being finely sliced.

Catmint foliage, freshly chopped {or dried} can be added to soups and stews, or made into a nourishing sauce in the manner that you would make mint sauce. it is recommended { for a gentle flavour } that the foliage is picked prior to the flowering season. although for many uses they may be harvested throughout the summer. {and used a s a dried herb}.

cut the stem about two inches { 5 cm } above the ground and hang them upside down in a shaded place. When the plants have dried out, remove the leaves and crush them before storing them in a sealed container. keep the container away from direct sunlight.

If you are trying a herb for the first time take just a little to test your body tolerance.


Catmint and the garden

Early garden species were considered easy to grow in any type of garden soil as they do not require as much moisture as many other mints do. It was increased by division in spring or by sowing the seeds during the same period. they were sown in rows about 20 inches apart, thinning out the seedlings to about the same distance as the plants. they were essentially maintenance free and would last for many years. They formed a pretty border and this was enhanced when grown with Hyssop, the colours blending in pleasingly, they were also grown in rock gardens.

More modern varieties include Nepeta grandiflora which is a neat erect perennial that attains the height of 16-32 inches {40-80 cm } and a spread of 45-60 cm { 16-32 inches }. this species has a slightly hairy stem, oval -round , toothed , light green leaves with heart shaped bases and in summer produces racemes of small blue flowers.

Nepeta nervosa is a clump forming perennial reaching the height of 35 cm { fourteen inches} with a spread of about 30 cm {one foot} and flower in early to late summer.

Nepeta ' blue beauty' is a spreading clump forming perennial. The height and spread both around 45 cm { 18 inches} whose flowers are borne throughout the summer.

Catmint is considered useful for edging particularly when they tumble over paving. They are fully hardy and prefer sun in moist well drained soil. Cuttings can be taken of 'soft'wood in spring and summer, or by division in spring. The seeds for these varieties should be sown in autumn.

Nepeta grandiflora



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you my friend. best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      6 years ago from Jaipur

      Nicely written. Rated up and useful.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, glad to have been of help. Thank you for your visit,best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I knew about this to some degree, having had a cat. Learned a lot from reading this piece, too.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      jill of alltrades,

      Hello my friend. I am sure we would make a fine team. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and vote up etc much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      What a very interesting hub about catmint! You did a thorough research of this my friend and I truly appreciate it. I love the way you interspersed the text with beautiful photos.

      Sometimes I wish I could go with you during your nature walks and I will be your photographer. I'm sure we will learn a lot from each other!

      Voted up and interesting!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, thank you for your kind comments and for visiting. Best wishes to you.


      Hi Devika, many of the flowers of this family and the dead-nettle family are very similar. Your vote up is as always appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      Hello Eddy, you are so kind with your comments and thank you for your vote up and share my friend. Best wishes to you.


      Hi, thank you your comments are very encouraging and appreciated. Best wishes to you.

      alison monroe,

      Hello, you very well could be right, nature has a way of looking after her own. Thank you for your visit and for taking your time to comment. Best wishes to you.

    • alison monroe profile image

      Alison Monroe 

      6 years ago

      These are beautiful botanical pictures. You can sure tell that this plant is a mint! I wonder if it was to the catnip plant's evolutionary advantage to produce a chemical that attracted cats, even though the cats might roll on the plants and smash them. Maybe it's not surprising that rats avoid the plant, and maybe the plants gain an advantage from rats and mice staying away.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I had wondered why cats liked it so much! Your hub is very well organized and full of great details.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Another wonderfully interesting hub DAL; balanced beautifully with the great images. Voting up and sharing onto my FB pages. Take care my friend and enjoy your weekend.


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have seen Catmint and was told it is an old kind of mint and did not know the actual name until now. A very interesting one here I have not seen the flowers of this plant so I have to look out for that as well. Voted up!

    • ologsinquito profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      This is a well-researched and informative article with beautiful pictures. Herbal medicine is so interesting, and I like learning more about it.


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