Catnip is a whitish-gray plant with a minty odor. The flowers are white with crimson dots. The catnip plant grows in North America and Europe. The leaves and flowers are used as medicine.
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Catnip has a long history of use for relieving coughs.
The mucilage of slippery elm gives it a soothing effect for coughs. Usnea also contains mucilage, which may be helpful in easing irritating coughs. There is a long tradition of using wild cherry syrups to treat coughs. Other traditional remedies to relieve coughs include bloodroot, catnip, comfrey (the above-ground parts, not the root), horehound, elecampane, mullein, lobelia, hyssop, licorice, mallow, (Malvia sylvestris), red clover, ivy leaf, pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium), onion, (Allium cepa), and plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major). None of these has been investigated in human trials, so their true efficacy for relieving coughs is unknown.
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Catnip is commonly recommended by doctors as a mild sedative for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion.
Combining valerian root with other mildly sedating herbs is common both in Europe and the United States. Chamomile, hops, passion flower, lemon balm, American scullcap, and catnip are commonly recommended by doctors.2 These herbs can also be used alone as mild sedatives for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion. Chamomile is a particularly good choice for younger children whose insomnia may be related to gastrointestinal upset. Hops and lemon balm are approved by the German government for relieving sleep disturbances.3
Catnip is famous for inducing a delirious, stimulated state in felines. Throughout history, this herb has been used in humans to produce a sedative effect.1 Several other conditions (including cancer, toothache, corns, and hives) have been treated with catnip by traditional herbalists.
The volatile oil in catnip contains the monoterpene, nepetalactone, which is similar to the valepotriates found in valerian, a more commonly used herbal sedative.4 Human trials are lacking to prove the effectiveness of catnip for treating insomnia. It has been used traditionally to reduce gas and act as a digestive aid.5
A catnip tea can be made by adding 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water to 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 grams) of the herb; cover, then steep for ten to fifteen minutes. Drink 2–3 cups per day.6 For children with coughs, 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of tincture three times per day can be used. Adults may take twice this amount.
Since catnip (particularly the volatile oil) may act to promote uterine contractions, it should not be used during pregnancy.
1. Tyler VE. Herbs of Choice. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994, 120–1.
2. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 279.
3. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 147, 160–1.
4. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988, 282.
5. Sherry CJ, Hunter PS. The effect of an ethanol extract of catnip (Nepeta cataria) on the behavior of the young chick. Experientia 1979;35:237–8.
6. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 991–2.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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