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Catnip, More Than Just a Cat's Toy
Katherine E. Tapley
The herb catnip (nepeta cataria), also called "catmint" is much more than an amusing cat intoxicant. It has genuine medicinal properties as well. A member of the mint family, catnip was originally imported for its healing properties from Europe and Asia. It is a hardy perennial and survives the winter snow and thrives in nutrient poor, sandy soil. Catnip grows best in sunlight with good drainage, but can be grown in partial shade as well. Requiring little care, and often growing as a pungent weed, it blooms from early spring until mid-fall. Germination of catnip seeds takes about two weeks and it needs to be thinned to one plant every foot. It can grow to a height of three feet and spread fifteen inches wide. Catnip's hardiness makes it an ideal herb for those who do container gardening in apartment balconies.
In the book, "Today's Herbal Health" by Louise Tenney, it is stated that, "Catnip has been called nature's 'Alka-Seltzer'. The Indians used it for infant colic, but it also has a sedative effect on the nervous system. It is useful for many ailments: for all cases of fevers for its action in inducing sleep and in producing perspiration without increasing heat in the body. In children it is said to speedily overcome convulsions. It is also good for restlessness and colic and as a pain killer, especially for children and infants." Tenney goes on to say that if catnip is taken in a warm infusion at the first sign of a cold it may prevent the cold from developing. If one has the flu catnip will help with the aches, pains, upset stomachs, and diarrhea. This versatile herb has also been reported to help tension and anxiety and to help eliminate toxins from the body.
The active ingredient in catnip is "nepetalactone", a volatile oil similar in structure of that found in valerian root, also a sedative. The leaves and flowers are collected between June and September and dried hanging up. To make an infusion one pours a cup of boiling water onto 2 teaspoons of dried catnip (both blossoms and leaves are used) and steeps for 10-15 minutes. For the tincture take 2 to 4 mls. three times a day. Catnip seems to be a safe herb and no toxic effects occur if taken sensibly. The folklore has grown up that smoking catnip will give a high, however this is untrue. Though the plant bears some resemblance to the marajuana plant, it's effects are harmless. No known medical conditions prohibit the medicinal use of catnip and no drug interactions have been reported. In short, catnip is the cat's meow. It not only amuses kitty, but can calm the baby, ease a fevered brow, and gently lull the overwrought to sleep.