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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nepeta Cataria: Catnip - by Rebecca Veenstra

     The botanical name for Catnip is Napeta Cataria. Catnip grows naturally in many types of environments in Michigan. You may see it growing wild next to a stream or river as well as deep in the forest, or along the fence in your own back yard.

     Catnip is similar to the mint plant, and is a self-seeding perennial. Perennial means that the plant’s roots can survive a cold season and sprout new growth the following spring. Most perennials live for many years. Catnip is from the same family as the mint plant making it a Lebiatae. That is the name scientists have given any species in that particular plant family.

     Catnip enjoys full sun to partial shade, and dry or sandy soil. The plant itself can grow to about 3 feet high, and sprouts new stems each season from the same root. The leaves are oval, toothed, and gray-green in color. The plant blooms in summer to early fall, with white or lavender flowers.

     Most people think that Catnip is only for cats. Our furry friends certainly know how to enjoy it but Catnip has many potential benefits to humans as well. Initially, the plant was introduced to the American continent by the colonists. Native Americans first adopted the herb as a beverage to relieve indigestion and infant colic. Over the years it became a popular smoking herb as well.

     The best way to harvest the plant is to wait for a dry, sunny day. Snip leaves or flowers with a sharp scissors or knife. The amount you take would depend on your intention for use and preferences as well as the amount of healthy plant material available at your gathering site.

     The leaves and flowers have similar effects. So, don’t fret if your plant is not in bloom. Just trim some leaves carefully--- leaving the majority of the plant to continue to grow. The roots of a catnip plant can survive under the earth during winter so be sure to leave part of the plant when you harvest. That way the following year you will be able to return to the same location and collect your herbs.

     It is wise to also leave a few buds on your catnip plant later in the season in order to allow the bees to pollinate them. Once the buds have gone to seed, make sure the seeds are spread so that the plant can start the next generation. Responsible wild crafting is the only hope our future generations have in a world where things become extinct all too often.

     You can dry the leaves and flowers on a screen. If you have just a few leaves or flowers a paper plate can work very well. When they are crispy-- and crumble when you pinch them-- you can store them in a paper bag or a glass jar. If you opt for a jar, make absolutely certain you have removed all excess moisture so that your Catnip doesn’t mold. The buds will dry just as easily as the leaves but they may take longer. Once the buds are dry, you may choose to snip the flowers off the stem for storage. If you do this you will reduce the volume-- but potentially lengthen the storage time for the herb because the stem can retain moisture sometimes.

     One of the most common ways to enjoy catnip is to smoke it. Historically, Catnip has been a regular component of many Native American knick knick blends. Knick Knick is the word that Native American’s use to describe a large variety of smoking blends that are used in smoking ceremonies. Catnip is sedating when smoked.

     Many people find that they enjoy mixing Catnip with Cannabis occasionally. The combination can be extremely soothing. The amount of Catnip a person would add to their Cannabis would depend entirely upon personal preference. Indica strains would add to the sedating effects of the Catnip and Sativa strains would potentially offset the sleepiness of the Catnip.

     In some respects, the latter would be kind of like having coffee with a sleeping pill but there are instances where a fine balance could be achieved. For example, perhaps a particular Cannabis strain allows a person to feel more alert and energetic but the person has a tendency to feel anxious at times. It may be beneficial to add a small amount of catnip to their regiment in order to help combat the anxiety.

     Perhaps a person with muscle spasms may find the antispasmodic action of catnip very helpful. Yet, the sedative effects may interfere with their ability to get through the day. In such a case, it would be prudent to experiment with different stimulants like ingesting  green tea during or after medicating with Catnip, or perhaps a strong sativa strain of Cannabis.

     It goes without saying that any smoking herb can be vaporized. Catnip is an herb that would provide smooth flavor and a very relaxing soothing effect. Many herbs would combine nicely with Catnip for any variety of effects when vaporizing. For example, a person with asthma symptoms may find a blend of Mullein and Catnip to be very relieving to the tension and inflammation created by lung congestion. Cannabis would also blend well with the Mullein and Catnip. As always the particular strain of Cannabis chosen would vary the effects greatly.

     Internally, Catnip can be very relieving to upset stomachs and colic symptoms. Many women find Catnip can help combat the pain of menstrual cramps too. The most common way to prepare Catnip to relieve tummy cramps is in a warm tea. As with most herbs the most common dosage is approximately one teaspoon steeped in approximately one cup (8 oz ) of hot water. Many texts on the subject suggest using about ½ ounce of leaves to a pint of water. You want the water to be hot enough to steam but it is crucial not to boil Catnip during preparation as this will destroy the medicinal properties. It is very important to cover the cup you are steeping your herb in as well. I use a saucer over the tea cup myself.  Steep for about five minutes.

     If you are preparing more than one serving you can create a make-it-yourself tea bag with a coffee filter. Put a scoop of your dried herb into the filter and gather the top, securing it with a bread tie to assure that no herbs sneak out into your tea.

     Catnip and many other herbs can be used to make sun tea too. Just use the above method and put the make shift tea bag into a large jar or jug. Then, let it sit out in the sun for a few hours and you will have a very soothing summer tea. Peppermint can be a wonderful addition to a Catnip tea and also Cannabis. There are a lot of flavors that combine nicely with Catnip. Experiment and see what you like. I enjoy it plain with a touch of honey and lemon.

     Catnip has diaphoretic properties. That means it can induce sweating. Times when this action could be beneficial would be in instances of fever as sweating could potentially lower the body temperature.

     Additionally, individuals with kidney disease may find herbs that induce sweating to be very soothing to the kidneys. The action of sweating aids the body in removing uric acid. The primary job the kidneys perform for us is to remove uric acid from our blood stream. Uric acid is the by-product of protein digestion. When the kidneys are compromised, the process of removing the uric acid can be exhausting to the organ. So, building a nice sweat can ease the burden on the kidneys and allow them to rest.

     Uric acid build up in the joints is the cause of gout. Therefore, it follows that individuals suffering with gout may find that using Catnip for its diaphoretic properties could ease the pain.
For example, drink a nice warm cup of Catnip tea after a hot shower. Stay bundled up and let the body sweat for a while. Then rinse off with warm water using a cloth to gently exfoliate the skin. Follow up with 8 oz. of cool water. A hot bath with a sachet of Catnip floating in it can also be extremely soothing to aches and pains. Add a little lavender to enjoy even more relaxation and fragrance.

     The conclusion of many studies on Catnip was unanimous that no adverse side effects were reported if used in reasonable quantities or doses. Some people may experience upset stomach. FDA classifies catnip as a drug of “undefined safety”. No significant toxic reactions have ever been reported. So, much like Cannabis, Catnip is a particularly useful herb with little known risk that may benefit the health in many ways.

     The next time you see a kitty romping in the Catnip-- stop to clip a bit for yourself & always... spread the seeds for future generations.

Balch, James and Phyllis.  Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery Publishing Group. Garden City Park, NY; 1997.
Blumenthal M, Ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Integrative Medicine Communications.  Boston, Mass; 1998.


  1. Back in the 70's, when I was in the Navy, we obviously couldn't smoke on the ship out at sea; at least not easily. We used to go to the pet store and buy catnip just before we went out, because it was completely legal, as it still is, so we had something to smoke. I liked the "high" from it as it was very close to weed, it just didn't last as long. Them a few years ago I tried some fresh that I dried myself and what a difference it was. Definitely an alternative if you're stuck without.

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