Herb Library: Natural Herbs and Herbal Supplements Directory: Catnip





This fact sheet provides basic information about Catnip. Catnip is an aromatic perennial herb native to central Europe and now naturalized throughout the northeastern US and Canada. Catnip is widely recognized for its ability to elicit euphoria in some cats. Catnip was documented in K'Eogh's Irish Herbalin (1735) and has been used for ornamental and culinary purposes and as a domestic folk medicine remedy. The plant's leaves and shoots have been used as a flavoring in sauces, soups, and stews, and in several patented beverages as well as fruit table wines and liquors. The leaves and flowers are used in herbal teas.

Common Names

Catnip, Catnep , Catmint, Catswort, Field Balm

Latin Names

Nepeta cataria

What It Is Used For

  • Topically, catnip has often been used to reduce swelling associated with arthritis, hemorrhoids, and soft tissue injuries.
  • The plant has been used to treat diarrhea, colic, the common cold, and cancer.
  • In Appalachia, nervous conditions, stomach ailments, hives, and the common cold are treated with catnip tea. The dried leaves have been smoked to relieve respiratory ailments, and a poultice has been used externally to reduce swelling.

How It Is Used

To use topically, dried leaves or flowers of catnip are moistened with warm water to make a poultice, which is applied externally as often as needed. Cooled catnip tea may also be used as a soak or a wash.

What the Science Says

  • Most of the scientific evidence on catnip involves animal studies and there is no evidence evaluating the effectiveness of catnip in humans. Historical and tertiary references document its use in humans as a sleep aid and calmative, as well as its use in the treatment of migraines, GI problems, colds, flu, fever, and topically for arthritis and hemorrhoids. Some evidence exists for its antimicrobial activity against fungi and gram-positive bacteria. Catnip may act as a repellant to mosquitoes, cockroaches, and termites.
  • Reports by human users describe a happy intoxication similar to the experience one might subjectively observe in an intoxicated cat. Four cases of catnip abuse have been reported, with 2 modes of use being described. The first is similar to marijuana smoking in that the dried leaves are smoked as a "joint" or in a pipe, with catnip burning more rapidly than marijuana. An alternate method involves spraying or soaking tobacco in the volatile oil or extract and then smoking it. The latter method is purported to yield a stronger "high." These users consistently reported mood elevation and euphoria. Effects were of variable intensity ranging from "giddy" to a feeling of "unreality." Generally, the experiences were short-lived, lasting only a few hours, and could be reactivated for up to 3 days after smoking by some subjects. However, the validity of these case reports has been questioned. Another case report exists of a toddler suffering from CNS depression after consuming a large quantity of catnip.

Side Effects and Cautions

  • There is no recent clinical evidence to guide dosage of catnip. Classical doses for sedation require 4 g of herb, usually given as a tea.
  • Excessive ingestion may result in headache and malaise.
  • No health hazards or side effects have been associated with proper administration of catnip in designated dosages. Catnip was once listed in the FDA's "Herbs of Undefined Safety" listing in the mid 1970s.


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