I started a catnip tincture and it is such a pretty color I had to put up pictures. I was rather surprised at how vividly green the tincture is after only a day.
Catnip is one of the few things I’ve planted that is still flourishing. The bees love its purple flowers and, like other members of the mint family, it spreads rapidly. Interestingly, it seems none of the kitties who live around here are into the ‘nip, because they don’t bother it at all. Just as well for me and my medicine cupboard!
Before I go any further let me state that catnip is not recommended for pregnant women.
The officinal species is Nepeta cataria, but the garden store is probably more likely to stock a hybrid, Nepeta x faasenii. I can’t find any systematic comparison of the two varieties, but this site claims that Nepeta x faasenii is actually more strongly medicinal. As with all internet information, use with common sense and caution! (That goes for this blog too, I guess!) Matthew Wood, in his Book of Herbal Wisdom, points out the affinity many mint-family plants (Lamiaceae or Labiatae) have for the nervous system. And sure enough, catnip is no exception. It is commonly used to ease headaches and colic and to soothe anxiety, insomnia, and nightmares, especially in children. Mrs. Grieve (p. 174) discusses in particular its diaphoretic properties:
“Catnep tea is a valuable drink in every case of fever, because of its action in inducing sleep and producing perspiration without increasing the heat of the system.”
One of the most interesting things about the mints, in my mind, is that they can be simultaneously stimulating and relaxant. Catnip is also used to soothe skin sores, including hives and hemorrhoids, and the essential oil repels bugs, including mosquitoes.
What kind of person needs catnip? (Besides feline persons, that is.) Back to Wood again (this time in The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism, pp. 167-168):
“Catnip is the mint nervine to give ‘when in doubt,’ i.e., when there is a nervous problem that can’t be differentiated enough to indicate a more specific medicine. The action of catnip centers on the stomach, with anxiety, energy, and pain rising upwards, rather than downwards, as is the case with chamomile. Unlike the chamomile person or child, catnip tends to internalize the stress and goes to the stomach. Think of it as ‘visceral over-stimulation from the mind.’… Not for sinking diarrheal anxiety (see chamomile). ‘Burpitis.’ …
“Catnip has a long reputation in the treatment of children’s diseases. It is an old specific for colic in babies at the breast.”
As my catnip has only recently grown mature enough to start making into herbal preparations, this is my first time working with it (hence why I am offering information from more expert witnesses rather than my own experiences). I decided to make a tincture because although it has traditionally mostly been used in tea form (though Culpepper says some people smoked it for mild hallucinogenic effects–if you try this do let me know how it goes), the short growing season means that I might not be able to harvest for long. Therefore I’d like to have a preserved catnip medicine on hand. I am using the fresh plant in flower and once again using pisco (Peruvian high-proof liquor) as the solvent. Wood recommends that the tincture be taken diluted in water, a few drops at a time, “enough to tint it light green”–two or three doses should produce relief. I am looking forward to trying this as I suffer perpetually from anxiety. Chamomile isn’t a good fit for me, but I have great results with melissa (lemon balm) and agrimony–all of which is further proof of the fact that no herbal medicine is one-size-fits-all, and the goal is to treat the person, not the disease. If you are a “catnip type,” I think you’ll find it very easy to grow in all but the most inhospitable conditions.