Although Catnip (nepeta cateria) is known for keeping cats entertained thanks to its aphrodisiac qualities, some claim the flowers of the plant also have medicinal value. This may be due to chemicals in catnip, which is a perennial herb and part of the mint family, that are said to function as a sedative, although some sources state the evidence of these claims needs further substantiation.
The NYU Langone Medical Center attributes this possibility to the presence of nepetalactone in the plant. Folk remedies for catnip (also called catmint and catwort) ranged from mustering up courage to repelling rats (farmers often planted it around crops or buildings). During colonial times it was used as a chamomile substitute and is still popular in places like Kentucky and the Ozarks.
Catnip herb also contains the vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12. It is considered particularly high in vitamin C. Information from the University of Michigan indicates it has mucilage properties to may be useful against colds.
Some people use catnip to treat anxiety, chicken pox, colic, convulsions, diarrhea, fever (as an enema), flu, headaches, hives, insomnia, migraine, respiratory infections, tooth aches (when chewing the leaves), swine flu, worms and gastrointestinal problems. It is also used to increase the appetite and help with digestion.
Certain sources caution that while it is generally considered safe to orally consume it in small amounts, it may be unsafe in large amounts. Appropriate dosages vary between age groups and individual products. It can be used as an oil or in capsule form. Online sources recommend taking one to three capsules daily. While it can be consumed as a tea, it should not be boiled in water. You should steep it in water that has been boiled and is starting to cool. The recommended amount is from one-half to one table spoon in a cup taken twice daily.
Some use it to increase urination and start menstruation when menstrual periods are delayed. However, sources advise woman having severe menstrual periods or suffering from pelvic inflammatory disorder not to use it because it can stimulate menstruation. Others put catnip on their skin to treat arthritis, hemorrhoids or swelling.
Researchers have not confirmed whether it is safe for epidermal use, although some people apply it to the skin based on evidence suggesting that it may repel mosquitoes (it is used in pesticides and insecticides). Sources also claim it is unsafe to smoke, which some people do for recreation or to treat respiratory conditions.It is not recommended for women that are pregnant or breast feeding. There is one case of a child consuming it orally and experiencing stomach pain, so caution is advised. Anyone scheduled for surgery is also cautioned not to use it within two weeks of an operation because it may slow down the central nervous system and can increase the effects of anesthesia.
Because Catnip has diuretic properties, it can cause the body to retain lithium. Anyone taking lithium may need to change their dosage if they take catnip. The herb can also interact with sedatives by increasing their effect. It is not recommended to use them together. Possible side effects include headaches or vomiting. Potential users are advised to consult a physician or pharmacist before using it.