Catnip (3, 4), Catmint (5, 6) and Catnep (7).
Aerial parts (2, 8).
Nepeta cataria is an aromatic perennial that grows to 1 metre (8). The stems are erect, square and branching (7). Serrated ovate leaves have a down covered underside with a hairy upper surface, giving them a grey-green appearance (6, 9). They are arranged in an opposite fashion (10). Small flowers ranging from white to pale blue with crimson speckles, exist is tight worls (11). Flowers are distinguished by a hairy, tubular/toothed calyx; a corolla consisting of bilabiate upper lip and a 3 cleft lower lip with the middle lobe the largest; and two pairs of stamens, the lower pair of which are shorter (9). Nepeta cataria odour is highly attractive to cats and is mint-like (6).
Nepeta cataria is native to Europe (8). It grows in calcareous soils and is often found on the borders of fields, dry river banks, waysides and waste places (6, 10). It has become naturalised in North America and temperate Asia (7, 8).
Nepeta cataria is an herb that has been recognised for its medicinal properties for many centuries. Over time it has been used in remedies to cure internal cancer, smallpox and scarlet fever (2). During the 19th century, American physio-medical practitioners used bowel injections of warm Nepeta cataria infusions for intestinal flatulence (13).
Traditionally the growth of Nepeta cataria was encouraged alongside fields and around areas of grain storage. This was due to the herbs ability to repel rats, and it was believed that a dense growth bordering fields helped to protect crops (7).
Major Active Constituents
Volatile oils: a and ß nepetalactone (12) citronella (3, 8), a and ß citral (4), limonene (12), geraniol (3), thymol (8), and carvacrol (5)
Bitter principles (3, 6)
Iridoids: epideoxyloganic acid and 7-deoxyloganic acid (1, 5)
Tannins (6, 8)
According to authorities on traditional western herbal medicine, Nepeta cataria has a carminative, anti-spasmodic, astringent and anti-flatulent effect on the gastrointestinal system, particularly on the stomach (1, 4, 7, 8). It is also a diaphoretic and antipyretic in times of fever (3, 6). Nepeta cataria is similarly recognised as a tonic, mild nervine, and sedative, with a slightly emmenagogue action (7, 8, 13). With respects to cats, Nepeta cataria produces an aphrodisiac effect (4).
An in vitro study was conducted concerning the antimicrobial activity of catmint diethyl ether extract, against that of fungi and Gram-positive bacteria. Staphylococcus aureus strains were used to track the subminimum inhibitory concentrations on coagulase, DNAase, thermonuclease and lipase production. Results concluded that at ½ and ¼ MIC concentration, DNAase, thermonuclease and lipase were inhibited (14).
Insect repellent effects
Catnip essential oil was tested for larvicidal and repellent activity. Catnip proved to be effective as a topical repellent against Aedes albopictus, A. aegypti, and Culex pipiens pallens mosquito species (15). However when tested against Deet, catnip oil was not as effective (16, 17).
The constituents nepetalactone and nepetalic acid found in Nepeta cataria are said to be responsible for its calming and sleepy properties, as it was noted to increase the sleeping time of mice (12). No studies to consolidate this information were found.
Clinical Outcome Studies
No clinical trails were found concerning Nepeta cataria.
Nepeta cataria is traditionally indicated for colds and flu’s (7, 13). Due to the actions outlined above, it is beneficial to these conditions as it will control fever and induce sleep. It is particularly useful in upper respiratory ailments with feelings of congestion and fever; for example it is most effective in bronchitis (1, 3, 7). Digestive related disorders such as colic, flatulence, indigestion, nervous dyspepsia and diarrhoea are likewise indications for its carminative, anti-spasmodic, astringent and antiflatulent actions (6, 8, 12). Nepeta cataria is highly recommended for children suffering fever or diarrhoea as it is a gentle yet efficient remedy (1, 7). Use externally in tincture form for rheumatism and arthritis (8).
Contra-indications and Cautions
The use of Nepeta cataria is cautioned during pregnancy due to its slight emmenagogue properties and lack of current scientific research on its safety (5). It is also cautioned with people taking medication targeted at the central nervous system as reports have been issued indicating that Nepeta cataria has potential psychoactive capabilities (15, 19), and is able to depress the central nervous system in large doses (19).
The use of Nepeta cataria is in addition cautioned with medication that promotes sleep as exaggerated effects may transpire. Drugs that may interact in this way include: anticonvulsants (carbamazepine, phenytoin, and valproic acid), barbiturates (Phenobarbital), benzodiazepines (Lunesta, Rozerem, Sonata, and zolpidem) and insomnia drugs (tricyclic antidepressants). Also, some ‘over the counter’ cough and cold mixtures that contain diphenhydramine or doxylamine (20).
Excessive sleepiness may occur if Nepeta cataria is taken with hops, kava, St. Johns wort and valerian (18).
Avoid in individuals if allergies or hypersensitivities to the Lamiaceae family are known (22).
In vitro studies have produced results suggesting possible interactions between Nepeta cataria constituents and antibiotics, antiviral medication and immunomodulators (21).
1-4 grams dried herb in 1 cup of boiling water, taken 3 times daily (1).
For colic and flatulence- 1 oz dried herb to 1 pint boiling water; 2 tbsp for an adult and 2/3 tsp for a child frequently (7).
2-6 mL, 1:5 tincture given 3 times daily (1).
Rub small quantity externally into sites of rheumatism or arthritic affected area (8).
apply Nepeta cataria poultice externally to painful swellings (7).
1. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. The science and practice of herbal medicine. Canada: Healing Arts Press.
2. Duke, J. (1985). Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. United States: CRC Press Inc.
3. Hoffmann, D. (1983). The New Holistic Herbal. Great Britain: Element Books Ltd.
4. Willard, T. (1992). Textbook of Advanced Herbology. Canada, Wild Rose College of Natural Healing Ltd.
5. Thomas, S. (2000). Medicinal Plants, Culture, Utilization and Phytopharmacology. USA: Technomic Publishing Company Inc.
6. Mills, S. (1985). The Complete Guide to Modern Herbalism. Great Britain: Thorsons. Harper Collins Publishers.
7. Grieve, M. (1980). A Modern Herbal. England: Penguin Books Ltd.
8. Chevallier, A. (2001). Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
9. (1918). Catnep. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. J. Remington and H. Woods, The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.
10. Chiej, R. (1984). The Macdonald Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Great Britian: Macdonald and Co Publishers.
11. Mills, S. (1985). The Dicitionary of Modern Herbalism, a comprehensive guide to practical herbal therapy. UK, Thorsons Publishers Ltd.
12. Wink, M. and B.-e. V. Wyk (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. USA, Timber Press Inc.
13. Ward, H. (1936). Catnep. Herbal Manual. London, L. N. Fowler & Co. Ltd.
14. Nostro, A., Cannatelli, M. A., Crisafi, G., and Alonzo, V. The effect of Nepeta cataria extract on adherence and enzyme production of Staphylococcus aureus. Int J Antimicrob Agents 2001;18(6):583-585.
15. Zhu, J., Zeng, X., Yanma, Liu, T., Qian, K., Han, Y., Xue, S., Tucker, B., Schultz, G., Coats, J., Rowley, W., and Zhang, A. Adult repellency and larvicidal activity of five plant essential oils against mosquitoes. J Am Mosq.Control Assoc 2006;22(3):515-522.
16. Bernier, U. R., Furman, K. D., Kline, D. L., Allan, S. A., and Barnard, D. R. Comparison of contact and spatial repellency of catnip oil and N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (deet) against mosquitoes. J Med Entomol. 2005;42(3):306-311.
17. Chauhan, K. R., Klun, J. A., Debboun, M., and Kramer, M. Feeding deterrent effects of catnip oil components compared with two synthetic amides against Aedes aegypti. J Med Entomol. 2005;42(4):643-646.
18. Jackson B and Reed A. Catnip and the alteration of conscious. The Journal of the American Medical Association 1969;17;207(7):1349-50.
19. Osterhoudt, K. C., Lee, S. K., Callahan, J. M., and Henretig, F. M. Catnip and the alteration of human consciousness. Veterinary and Human Toxicology 1997;39(6):373-375.
20. DrugDigest. (2008). "Catmint." 2008, Accessed 15 September 2008.
21. Catnip. Natural Standard 2008. Accessed 24 August 2008.
[link no longer available]
22. Yarnell, E., Abascal, K., & Hooper, C. (2002). Clinical Botanical Medicine. USA: Mary Ann Liebert Inc.
This monograph was authored in 2008 by Alice Mann, a student in Southern Cross University’s Bachelor of Naturopathy programme, and edited by Nena Aleschewski BNat. While the author and editor have strived to cite published information accurately, Southern Cross University will not be responsible for any inaccuracies that may have occurred.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you wish to use herbal medicine as part of your health care, seek the advice of an appropriately qualified practitioner.