Catnip, botanically known as Nepeta cataria is a perennial herb in the labiatae or mint family. It is native to Europe but was introduced to other parts of the world including North America by European settlers. This hardy and upright plant with sturdy stems has a minty odor in keeping with plants in the mint family.
[Note: The Right Flowers is not a medical site. Knowledge of and information about the therapeutic benefits and applications of flowers, while known through the ages, does not constitute medical advice. If you are having health issues, you should consult with a physician.]
Catnip has furry, silver-green leaves. The leaves are heart or oblong-shaped with scalloped edges. Catnip brings forth flowers from July to October featuring white or pale lavender-like blossoms with purple spots. The flowers are arranged in clusters of dense whorls.
The plant derives its name from how cats respond to the herb. Catnip contains nepetalactone, a compound that makes cats go crazy. Apart from mesmerizing cats, the plant has been used for years in Europe to alleviate anxiety including calming irritable children.
Nepetalactone, the main active compound in catnip is an essential oil with stimulative and sedative capabilities. When a cat sniffs nepetalactone, they get high, but when they chew it, they get sedated. This explains the strange behavior exhibited by felines around this herb. Curiously, kittens are not affected by the stimulant until they attain sexual maturity. Typical feline’s (domestic cats, lions, tigers, and leopards) response to nepetalactone includes licking, sniffing, chewing, shaking the head and body rubbing. Apart from these characteristics, cats also jump, drool, get aggressive or exhibit hyperactivity.
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Nepetalactone is similar to valepotriates found in plants with sedative properties such as valerian. These compounds promote sleep, improve mood, reduce anxiety and help people with frayed nerves to relax.
In European traditional medicine, catnip was first mentioned in the 11th-century herbal encyclopedia, De viribus herbarum. The herb’s flowering tops and leaves were highly esteemed for their ability to promote sleep and calm nervousness. In addition, catnip was used to alleviate digestion problems in children.
Catnip is known for inducing sweating which makes it ideal for treating colds and flu. Sweating is one of the fastest ways of getting rid of toxins from the body especially when dealing with flu or cold-induced fever. In most instances, insufficient sweating during feverish episodes is the only thing that keeps pathogens and toxins in the body. Once sweating is induced, the fever breaks.
Apart from being a great sedative and a herbal remedy for colds and flu, catnip is also good for relieving aching joints, gout, sprained muscles and hemorrhoids due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Ultimately, catnip is not just good for cats but also contains beneficial properties that alleviate human suffering.