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Catnip - Not Just For Felines

Updated on October 21, 2014

Everyone knows catnip has a mind-bending effect on our feline friends, but few realize just how useful it is for humans, as well.

A young catnip plant.
A young catnip plant. | Source

Flu Virus Symptoms

You're achy. Your throat is scratchy and your head wants to explode from sinus pressure. Let's face it, being sick is right up there with root canals and cleaning toilets when it comes to how most people want to spend their time.

Although many of over the counter medications to treat the nuisance of cold and flu symptoms do the job, there are always side effects ranging from nuisances like drowsiness to more serious problems like liver damage.

Luckily, there are alternatives beyond waiting for that frog to leave your throat. One of my favorite natural remedies happens to grow in my back yard. If I'm not careful, it also grows in my front yard. It grows down the block, too, but that's not my problem.


This overly exuberant herb happens to be catnip. Yep, this great herbal healer is the very same stuff that turns an ordinarily laid back kitty into a floor-writhing, tail chasing mass of purring felinity. Thankfully, or maybe regretfully, it doesn’t do the same thing to humans.

Catnip is native to parts of Asia and Europe, but it was brought to the states by colonists, along with many far less savory things. From there, it flourished in the northeast and upper midwest. The leaves are oval in shape, toothed along the edges and slightly fuzzy to the touch. The flowers are either white or purple and cluster at the tops of the stems. The plant itself has the distinctive scent attributed to the herb as well.

Herbal lore has long suggested this member of the mint family for fevers, diarrhea, toothache, and menstrual problems amongst many other ailments. Modern science has verified the validity of some of these uses.

  • Catnip has natural antibiotic properties. By killing off the little buggers the immune system is already fighting, it helps cut sick-time down and assists in the eradication of fevers. It’s worked like a charm for me.
  • Like other members of the mint family, it has a mildly relaxing effect on the smooth muscle lining both the digestive system and the uterus. This means that it helps ease upset stomach and those nasty menstrual cramps women suffer through every month. Because of previous use to bring on menses, it’s a good idea for pregnant women to ask their healthcare providers for advice about its use or to avoid it altogether.
  • It has a soothing effect and can, in fact, help ease anxiety and insomnia. The first time I’d used it for a fever, it had actually helped put me to sleep for several hours. Now, when I brew up a cup of tea, it relaxes me, but it doesn't put me out.

Kitty Candid Camera - Khan on the Nip

It's a little teapot - short and stout
It's a little teapot - short and stout | Source

Tea Party!

Preparation is relatively easy. If you have easy access to a natural foods store or co-op, check out their tea section. If it is available, just follow the directions on the package. Avoid dried catnip sold in pet stores, however, owing to the possibility of other plants being mixed in.

If you have access to fresh plants, however, all you’d need is the following –

  • Around a tablespoon’s worth of leaves
  • Loose-leaf tea brewing things, like the pictured teapot or tea-ball. There are also cloth baggies available for this purpose, but I prefer the teapot. These are all available in some grocery stores, natural food stores, co-ops and online. My teapot was purchased at a Wegmans in upstate New York.
  • A kettle with water – preferably filtered, but tap is fine if the quality is high enough to be safe for consumption. I simply prefer filtered.

Because I’m lucky enough to have access to such safe abundance in the spring, summer and fall, I use it while fresh. I keep a reserve growing in order to harvest in the fall for drying. Since nothing grows here in the winters outside of cold and flu bugs, having a dried store of catnip on hand is a good idea.

Like all herbs, keep it in a dry, dark place when not using it.

Before using the leaves, I always wash them in cold water. Although I do not use pesticides or chemical fertilizers, it’s simply good practice.

After bruising or tearing the leaves, I let our kitties have a portion for their own strictly medicinal use. The rest, I put in my little teapot while the kettle heats.

As a note, you don’t want to bring the water to a complete boil. If it’s too hot, it will destroy the oils in the plant. Because I don’t have a thermometer to measure the water temp, I listen for it to reach a simmer, then fill the teapot with hot water. I let it sit for about five to ten minutes; depending on how strong of a brew I want. The longer it sits, the stronger it will be.

A ball - for tea
A ball - for tea | Source

The tea pot I have makes about two servings. The tea ball is nice because you just put the herb in it, screw it closed, stick the whole shebang in a mug, pour the hot water over it and viola - a single serving of tea.

If you use a tea ball, be sure to cover the mug with a saucer or paper-towel as it brews. While it would brew without being covered, I find that that extra step helps for a slightly stronger flavor.

The tea itself has a unique, fresh taste to it. If it doesn't agree with your pallet, adding honey will help sweeten it.

Honey is a great idea for dealing with illness as well, because it also has an antibiotic nature to it. It’s a wonderful help with sore throats in particular.

Catnip Side Effects

Outside of the potential for drowsiness, I haven’t run across any sort of negative side effects of catnip in either my personal experience or research. Still, I would advise only drinking a cup or two a day to avoid building up too much of a tolerance. If you don’t start feeling better in a week to two weeks, or start getting worse, it’s time to pay your doctor a visit.

As with all things, there is always a potential for allergic reaction. If you’ve had problems ingesting mints in the past, it would be a good idea to avoid catnip.

Would your kitty share their catnip with you?

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