Catnip: The Feline Favorite with Human Benefits
When most people hear ‘Catnip’, they instantly think of cats rolling in blissful euphoria. But there’s more to this herb than being a feline delight. Originating in Europe and Asia, Catnip ( Nepeta cataria) made its way across the globe, revered not just for its effect on cats but also for its benefits for humans.
A Brief Stroll Through History
Historically, Catnip was a go-to herb in traditional European medicine. It was used for everything from treating colic in babies to being a kitchen staple. There’s an old saying, “If you set it, the cats will eat it; if you sow it, the cats won’t know it.” This saying hints at Catnip’s dual nature – both a playful treat for cats and a valuable herb for humans.
Catnip is a hardy perennial that grows in most climates. It loves the sun but can tolerate partial shade. The plant produces small, lavender flowers and has a distinctive, minty aroma. Growing Catnip is a double treat – it’s not only easy to care for but also gives you a nice treat for your felines throughout the year if you dry some.
If you find that cats are getting into your personal supply of Catnip, try planting an easily accessible patch just for them.
The Human Side of Catnip
Now, let’s focus on what Catnip does for us. The herb is renowned for its calming properties. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is responsible for its soothing effects. When brewed into a tea, Catnip can help ease stress and anxiety, making it a perfect herbal ally for relaxation. It’s also used for its mild sedative properties, helping to promote a good night’s sleep.
Culinary Uses: Beyond the Teapot
While Catnip tea is the easiest way to enjoy this herb, it’s not the only way. The leaves can be used fresh or dried in salads, and it makes a wonderful addition to homemade herbal blends. Its subtle minty flavor can be a delightful surprise in culinary experiments. It has a bitter taste, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but do try it for yourself before bringing a salad topped with Catnip to a family meal if you know what I mean.
Catnip for Wellness
Beyond its calming effects, Catnip has been used traditionally to alleviate symptoms of colds and flu, thanks to its mild decongestant and antipyretic properties. It’s also been used for digestive issues, as it can help ease stomach cramps and reduce gas. Catnip’s gentle nature makes it suitable for all ages, with a little encouragement because it is bitter. I find that mixing it with other flavorful herbs like Chamomile and Lemon Balm helps.
Harvesting and Preserving Your Catnip
The best time to harvest Catnip is just before it flowers when the concentration of oils is at its peak. The leaves can be dried for tea or stored in the freezer for future use. Drying Catnip is simple – just hang it upside down in a dry, dark place, and once dry, crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight container. I try to store the leaves as whole as possible and crumble them just before use.
Catnip is a Gem
Catnip is a gem in the world of herbs. Its ability to soothe the nerves and bring calm makes it a valuable addition to any herbal collection. Whether you’re enjoying a cup of tea that includes Catnip to unwind after a long day, using it to ease a headache, or simply growing it to delight your feline friends, this herb has a special place in the garden and the home.
So next time you see your cat rolling in glee in a patch of Catnip, remember that this humble herb has much to offer us too. Here’s to enjoying the many facets of Catnip!