Materia Medica - Catnip



Not just for cats, Catnip is also safe and effective for children and infants, to calm anxiety and promote sleep. Interestingly, the response to catnip is not limited to domesticated cats, but has also been observed in jaguars, tigers, leopards, lions, and several other large cats.


Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Nepeta cataria

Common Name(s): Catnip, catmint

TCM Name: Jia Jing Jie, Mao Bo He

Ayurvedic Name: Badranj boya (Urdu)

Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Physical Description of the Plant: 

Catnip is a gray-green, 2-3 feet tall perennial with the characteristic square stems and purple terminal flower spikes typical of the Mint or Lamiaceae family. It has fuzzy, heart-shaped, toothed, opposite leaves.

Habitat:  Catnip is native to the dry and temperate Mediterranean area in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and was introduced to many parts of the world, including North America, by European settlers. It is now widely naturalized and cultivated extensively in gardens and for commerce.

Harvest and Collection: Harvest flowering tops and leaves in midsummer.

Parts of the Plant Used: Aerial parts;  fresh or dried flowering top and leaf, as a tea or tincture. 

Qualities:  Calming, relaxing, sedative.

Energetics: Cool, dry, slightly pungent, bitter

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Acetic, valeric, and butyric acids
  • Carvacrol
  • Citronellol
  • Dipentene
  • Geraniol
  • Iridoid glycosides
  • Nepetalactone
  • Nepetol
  • Nerol
  • Tannins
  • Thymol



  • Anodyne
  • Antidiarrheal
  • Antispasmodic
  • Antiviral
  • Astringent
  • Carminative
  • Diaphoretic (relaxing)
  • Emmenagogue
  • Immunomodulator
  • Insect repellent
  • Mild sedative
  • Mucolytic
  • Nervine

Eastern: Meridians: Stomach, Lungs; Release to the Exterior/Clear Wind Heat: colds, flu with headache, chills and fever, sore throat, congestion, wheezing, restlessness. Relieve Stagnant Qi: emotional, mental or nervous tension, gas, cramping. Reduce Inflammation/Benefit Skin: dermatitis.

Indications:  Anxiety, colds and flu, flatulent colic, headaches, insomnia, stress, teething.

Contraindications/Cautions: Do not use if pregnant.

Drug Interactions: None known


Tincture1:2 fresh extract, 30% alcohol, 40-60 drops, (2-3 ml), 3 times per day

Infusion:  1-2 tsp of the dried herb per 10-12 oz hot water. Take two to three cups per day.

Compress:  Dampen a gauze pad or clean cloth with fresh or dried infusion, use for muscle and menstrual cramps, headaches, hemorrhoids, bee stings, eye inflammation.

Combinations:  Combine with lemon balm and chamomile for nervousness, particularly in children.

Folklore: Used in traditional medicine in Europe for centuries, it is first mentioned in the 11th century herbal, De viribus herbarum. Catnip was prized for its ability to calm occasional nervousness and promote restful sleep. It was employed as a relaxant and diaphoretic. It was often used to support healthy digestion and soothe the stomach for children. It was also applied externally as a poultice. Nicholas Culpepper, 17th century botanist, astrologer, physician, and herbalist, made it into a juice for topical application. According to Maude Grieve, author of A Modern Herbal the root can be overstimulating, so it's best to use the above ground parts. 

Catnip was part of American folk medicine and Native American healing systems, and employed as a gentle tea for children in cases of occasional upset stomach or sleeplessness. Catnip was used by the Hoh, Delaware, and Iroquois tribes for children's complaints. The Cherokee used the plant similarly to other indigenous groups and also considered it to be an overall strengthening tonic. In the southwestern United States, catnip (or 'nebada' in Spanish) was utilized in traditional folk medicine for soothing the stomach and enhancing digestion in infants. Also, it was sold as a brandy infusion with 'hinojo' or fennel as a digestive tonic. 

Flower Essence: Catnip stimulates visions and dreamlike states for those seeking deeper inner journeys. Brings peaceful state of bliss while observing life from within oneself. Brings soul understanding into form in the physical world. 

Applications: restlessness, nervous irritation, nervous headaches, insomnia, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea.


Catnip Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon Catnip
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Mix the whole wheat flour and catnip together in a bowl.  Add in the wet ingredients – molasses, egg, oil, and milk.  Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside. Roll the mixture out on a floured surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Arrange on the tray and bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool and store in a tightly sealed container. Enjoy with a cup of catnip tea.

Catnip Treats

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons dried catnip
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Stir in yogurt, egg, honey, and coconut oil. Press out dough on a floured surface and cut into tiny treats using a cookie cutter or pizza wheel. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for up to three months.

Scientific Research:


There are some 250 species in the Nepeta genus, a member of the Lamiaceae family noted for its many nourishing and nontoxic plants. So safe in fact is Nepeta cataria (catnip) that it is a long-standing remedy for irritability and restless sleep in babies and toddlers. Nepeta is most well known for its profound effects on the nervous systems of cats, but it affects the nervous systems of humans as well, albeit in gentler ways. Maude Greive in her classic A Modern Herbal speaks of Nepeta under the heading of “Catnep” and reports that the fresh juice is more effective than the tea for nervous headaches, restlessness, colic, anxiety, hysteria, and sleep disturbances, including nightmares.

Despite Nepeta being a household staple at one time, there has been very little research on the plant. A terpene named nepetalactone is found in the volatile oil fraction of the plant and is known to act as an attractant to cats. The lascivious behavior displayed by some cats under the influence of catnip may be due to the fact that sexual responses involve dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, and Nepetapromotes dopamine. Like ValerianaNepeta contains iridoid glycosides, which likely contribute to the anxiolytic and sedative effects, and several mouse studies report increased sleep and antianxiety effects. The iridoid glycosides in valerian are thought be calming via gamma-aminobutyric acid effects. Although the scientific research on Nepeta is very scant, the traditional literature is robust, and clinical herbalists report general efficacy as a nervine. The flavor of Nepeta is bland enough to use as a tea for young children or, as Mrs Greive suggests, as fresh juice if you care to make this yourself.

Jeff Grognet, The Canadian Veterinary Journal, Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present.





Mimi Alberu