You’ve probably watched cat videos where catnip is involved. This herb, as most pet lovers know, is extremely popular with cats. Owners usually use catnip to keep their cats relaxed, while some simply enjoy watching their cats’ antics once they start reacting to the herb.
But aside from its hilarious and harmless effect on cats, what else is catnip good for? Keep reading and you’ll discover the various health benefits of this herb for both cats and humans.
Catnip is a perennial plant that typically grows 25 to 40 centimeters tall, or roughly about 10 to 16 inches. It is believed that catnip originated from Europe and was only introduced to American soil when European settlements were established.1
Today, catnip is freely cultivated as a common garden plant and is usually found in pastures, fencerows and barnyards. The plant has distinct heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges that emit a minty odor when either crushed or bruised. Its small flowers grow in clusters, with their color ranging from white to lavender.2
But how does catnip work, and why do cats enjoy it so much? Catnip’s mesmerizing effects may be because of nepetalactone, a chemical substance that triggers a euphoric state in felines.3 The effect depends on how you introduce it to your pet’s system. Sniffing the leaves triggers a stimulant effect, while eating them may have a sedative-like effect in your cat.4
The catnip plant has numerous benefits for both felines and people. In humans, it may:
- Help with digestive discomfort — Catnip may be used to ease tension in the smooth muscles of the stomach. This helps stop the spasms that usually cause stomachaches and any digestive pain.5
- Promote relaxation — German scientists note that nepetalactone isomers found in catnip function similarly to the sedative components of valerian root. This may help alleviate anxiety symptoms and promote better sleep quality.6
- Helps fight off infections — A 2012 study showed that catnip has antimicrobial properties that may be effective against foodborne pathogens, including Shigella and Salmonella. It works through its bactericidal and bacteriostatic activities.7
- Function as a menstrual aid — For years, catnip has been used to promote better menstrual flow, helping lessen abdominal cramps and other discomforts that usually accompany the menstrual cycle.8
Catnip has also been observed to have antiseptic, carminative and tonic properties.9 However, more studies are required to fully understand the mechanism by which this herb affects the various systems of the human body. Meanwhile, here are ways on how you can use catnip for your feline companions:
• Serves as both a sedative and a stimulant — Depending on how your cat ingests catnip, it can make your pet either hyper or sedated. Catnip may help keep your cats relaxed during events that may trigger extreme anxiety.10
• Relieves cat flatulence — Just like in humans, catnip may be beneficial for cats who are suffering from flatulence caused by a variety of factors, such as their diet, accidental swallowing of air and malabsorption.11 Cat flatulence may also be brought on by stress.
Catnip is a carminative,12 which means that it promotes the removal of gas from the intestines. It also helps remove cats from a stressed state,13 which may be a cause of gas in felines.14
• Helps with skin conditions — Cats are prone to various skin conditions and irritations, some caused by allergies.15 Giving your pet a catnip tea bath will not only help soothe their irritated skin but may also help ward off fleas and ticks.16,17 Catnip has been proven to be more effective in repelling insects than DEET.18
The catnip plant can be transformed into different products with various uses. The herb can be sold dried or as a tea or tincture. Dried catnip may be sprinkled on scratching posts and pet beds to encourage your cat to use these items.19 Some pet toy companies also use catnip as fillers to keep cats interested in their toys.20
In humans, the tea made from dried catnip can work as a remedy for stomachache and infant colic.21 If you are interested in trying catnip tea, use the recipe below from the website New Life on a Homestead:22
- 1 tablespoon Chamomile-Catnip-Lemon Balm mixture
- 1 cup water
- Raw honey, to taste
- Create a combination of dried chamomile, catnip and lemon balm by mixing one part chamomile, two parts catnip and one part lemon balm.
- Store the mixture in an airtight container to preserve flavor and quality.
- To brew tea, add 1 tablespoon of the mixture to 1 cup of hot water.
- Let it steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Add honey to taste. Serve.
Catnip essential oil can be used medicinally or as an insect repellent. It also has relaxant, antispasmodic and allelopathic properties.23 Some of the benefits of catnip oil include:
- Repels mosquitoes — A 2011 study out of Iowa State University compared the effectiveness of catnip essential oil to that of DEET. The results showed that catnip essential oil had better spatial repellency than DEET, which only worked when used in high amounts.24
- Enhances mood — Catnip oil may mitigate certain anxiety symptoms like nightmares and restlessness. For nervous states, catnip does well when mixed with chamomile, lavender and lemon balm.25
- Aids in detox — Catnip oil has stimulant and diaphoretic properties, which help in detoxification. It also helps in ridding the body of harmful substances.26
Catnip oil is also rich in carvacrol and thymol, which are known for their antibacterial properties. Because of these components, catnip oil may be used as a traditional treatment for helping ease colds, flus and even bronchitis.27
The common method for making catnip oil is distillation, but you can also make your own infusion. I highly recommend that you buy organic catnip or use catnip that you’ve grown in your own backyard to be sure that no harmful fertilizers or pesticides were used in growing the plant.
Immerse the chopped leaves in coconut or olive oil (use high-quality olive oil because most of the oils that are sold in the market are adulterated with a distilled form of olive oil or other types of oil) and heat the concoction at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three hours. Let cool and strain out the leaves. You can put the oil in small containers and store it in the refrigerator.28
Catnip plants thrive best in full sun, so make sure that you reserve a place for them where they don’t get covered in other plants’ shade. The soil where they’re planted should also be well-drained. Because of their hardy characteristic, catnip plants may also thrive in poor soil but may not get to grow to their full plant size.
However, because this plant is highly susceptible to getting rolled on and damaged by roaming cats, protective measures are needed. You can stop your cats from attacking your plants by putting an ornamental birdcage over your catnip plants or keeping them in hanging baskets so they’re at a safe distance from your cats.29
One of the questions that cat owners often ask first is, “Is catnip safe?” The good news is that this herb is safe for cats and has only minor effects on the feline’s behavior, for a limited amount of time.
Note as well that not all cats are attracted to catnip. Only roughly 50 percent of the feline population is affected by its scent, so don’t be alarmed if your kitty isn’t attracted to the herb.30 Cats that are attracted to catnip, on the other hand, should be supervised when introduced to the plant, as excessive catnip ingestion may lead to mild diarrhea and vomiting.31
Catnip should be avoided by pregnant women because ingesting or using it can stimulate the uterus. It may trigger a miscarriage or early labor, so don’t use this herb when pregnant or if you’re planning to conceive.32