Catnip: It’s Not Just for Felines

catnip

Nepeta by proteinbiochemist on flickr.com

My funniest memory of Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is watching my cat suck on an herbal toy for about ten minutes with a crazed expression on his face. That type of response is what most people associate with Catnip. Nepetalactone, an aromatic constituent of the plant that is also found in the essential oil, is responsible for this stimulating reaction. What is interesting is that humans have the opposite experience from felines and use the plant and oil for its sedative qualities.

Human brains are physiologically different from cat brains and people do not react to catnip by getting “high.” … Catnip is commonly recommended by herbalists to lessen migraine headaches and to relieve cramps, gas, indigestion, insomnia, nervousness and anorexia.” Aromatherapists can use the essential oil in similar ways because it contains many of the same relaxing constituents. Inhaling the essential oil can aid in serene sleep or reduce headaches and fevers. An application of Catnip in lotion can help with arthritis, inflammation, muscle spasms, and stomach cramps.

Lately, Catnip essential oil has gained a reputation as an excellent bug repellant. “Researchers report that nepetalactone … (from catnip) is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET — the compound used in most commercial insect repellents.” That’s good news because DEET can potentially cause nerve damage and disrupt the nervous system. Catnip can be a safe alternative insect repellant when used in low concentrations. But before using it, just remember that cats are attracted to it. You don’t want every cat in the neighborhood following you around so they can get a buzz.