Around Ontario, wild catnip is often found coming up in fields and gardens in early spring. It’s a good plant to know about because of its many safe, effective healing properties.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a mint family (Lamiaceae) plant with rounded toothed leaves growing in opposite pairs on a square (four-sided) stem. Tiny soft hairs on the leaves and stems give the plant a velvety texture. In cooler weather, its green colour is often mixed with shades of purple, especially on the leaf undersides. When rubbed, the plant gives off a slightly pungent, mint-like aroma--one that famously attracts felines! While it makes cats energetic and “high” however, catnip has the opposite effect on humans.
This plant has been used throughout history and is still in use today as a mild, calming, antispasmodic agent. Like many mint family plants, catnip is a carminative herb. It has a soothing action on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, relaxing the cramps and spasms of indigestion. This calming action can also affect cramping in the lower abdomen, sometimes helping to ease menstrual cramps. It has been used safely for infants with colic. It helps to relax the mind and diminish anxiety, and is known among herbalists as a safe, effective remedy for bedwetting in children.
Catnip is a supportive remedy for the child in all of us. For those with insomnia or troubling dreams, a cup of catnip tea can act like a lullaby, soothing us into a peaceful sleep. Those coming home with tension and stress from a tough day of work will often find their worries calmed and tensions eased with catnip’s gentle influence.
The leaves and flowers are the parts generally used. The stems can be cut, about four inches off the tops of the plant, allowing the remainder of the plant to regenerate (which it should be able to do with ease). These can either be used fresh, or dried for future use. To dry the herb, lay out your harvest in a basket or on a cotton sheet in a warm, dry place out of direct light and leave there for a few days or over a week, until the leaves or stems make a snapping noise when broken. This indicates that they’re dry and can be stored in a jar, out of direct light. The fresh herb can also be tied in bundles with a string and hung to dry.
One teaspoon of crushed up dried herb, or one handful of fresh herb will make one cup of catnip tea. Pour hot water over the herb and steep, covered for at least ten minutes. Then strain and drink. Honey can be added if desired. For infants, diluted tea can be given in a bottle for colic, or nursing mothers can drink the tea, providing their infants with its benefits via the breast milk. To alleviate bedwetting, the same strength brew can be made but with half as much water, so that less liquid is given to drink before bed.
Catnip can truly be considered a quintessential soother. She reminds us of her peace bringing ways with her early spring leaves, assuring us that winter has finally ended. As the plant grows and the season warms, she invites us, humans and cats alike, to bask safe and warm in the healing sunlight.
Originally Published: April 30, 2018
Tamara Segal, Contributor and Registered Herbalist
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Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County. She also teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops throughout the Quinte area.