Catnip, a fragrant, herbaceous perennial, is recognizable by its characteristic square wooly stem; all members of the Lamiaceae family (mint family) have this. It has coarse textured, triangular to ovate shaped leaves with a toothed edge that grow opposite of each other. The flowers are tiny, growing in whorled clustered spikes of pale pink to purple, and are bilabiate, meaning they have “two lips”, a top and a bottom. Catnip grows in most well drained soils with full to partial sun. Keeping the soil on the dryer side can produce more aromatic plants, so try limiting the water for the plant shortly before harvest of the leaves and flowers in late summer when the plants are blooming. Try to avoid bruising any leaves, which releases the volatile oils in the plants and an army of neighborhood house-cats who will tear the plant to pieces. Catnip is deer resistant and can tolerate droughts. It also attracts lacewings, which are beneficial predatory insects for your garden, and is thought to repel aphids and squash bugs.
Catnip is best known for its ability to get your cat totally high. You can use it on your people too; catnip can soothe the smooth muscle linings of the digestive tract, easing an upset stomach and indigestion. As a diaphoretic, it’s known to help fevers, colds, and flus, especially those accompanied by bronchitis. It also helps ease menstrual cramping; try combining it with crampbark as you feel cramps coming on. It can also help ease tension, anxiety, and aid sleep and is useful for treating diarrhea. The volatile oil of the plant is also useful for repelling mosquitos, fleas, rats, termites, and cockroaches. The leaves can also be used as a healing, soothing poultice for bruises and light scrapes.
Catnip has been used medicinally for centuries as a cough and cold remedy for congestion and loosening phlegm, and to help sweat out fevers. It was also prized as both a digestive herb and as a women’s herb, great for colic, flatulence, intestinal and menstrual cramps, and to stimulate menstruation. Small bags of catnip were often placed around infants necks, so that they could inhale the soothing, lemony-mint vapors. Catnip was introduced to North America by the colonists, who believed that the roots of catnip could make even the kindest person mean and dark hearted. Hangmen drunk a decoction of the roots before executions to set the mood for work.
The leaves and flowers can be prepared as an 10-15 minute tea infusion of 2 teaspoons dried herb per cup of water (or a liberal handful, if used fresh), and as a tincture of 2-4ml taken three times daily. For colds, try combining it with yarrow, cayenne, elder, and or boneset.
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