Catnip -- Nepeta cataria -- is a strong-smelling plant of the mint family. In the 13th century, people used catnip as a medicinal cure-all, and some practitioners still take catnip today for pain, stress, flatulence, restlessness and nervousness. Medical trials involving catnip are inconclusive, but preliminary evidence suggests that small doses of catnip tea are not a health risk, according to Georgetown University Medical Center. Consult your doctor before drinking catnip tea.
Herbalists use both the leaves and roots of catnip, which may have opposite effects according to an article published in 1990 in the Canadian Veterinarian Journal. People drink catnip leaves in tea to soothe nervous disorders, whereas people use the root as a stimulant. Chemicals in catnip include acetic acid, biotin, buteric acid, choline, citral and dipentene, according to James Balch, M.D. in Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Catnip also contains folic acid, inositol, lifronella, limonene, manganese, nepetalic acid, pantothenic acid, para-aminobenzoic acid, phosphorous, sodium, sulfur, valeric acid, A and B vitamins.
Catnip may help soothe problems caused by nervousness including anxiety, indigestion and insomnia. Steven D. Ehrlich, N.M.D. of the University of Maryland Medical Center writes that catnip tea may benefit patients with bulimia nervosa and infant colic. Bulimia nervosa involves eating large amounts of food, then purging or vomiting. Colic occurs when infants cry excessively at about the same time of day at least three days a week, and may result from gas or food intolerance.
Catnip effectively repels insects, according to a study published by the American Chemical Society in August 2001.The chemical nepetalactone that gives catnip its strong scent repels mosquitoes 10 times more effectively than DEET, the compound used in most commercial bug repellents. While the study researched catnip as an essential oil, catnip tea retains some of the strong aroma of the leaves, so may keep bugs away. Alternatively, use catnip essential oil as a bug repellent. Do not ingest essential oil or apply it directly to your skin.
Make catnip tea by mixing 1 to 2 tsp., or 1 to 2 g of dried catnip leaves with one cup of hot water. Use half the dry dosage per cup when taking liquid catnip extract. Drink catnip tea two to three times a day to soothe nerves and settle your digestive system, writes Ehrlich. Consult a doctor for appropriate dosages for infants and young children. Catnip tea is contraindicated for persons with liver and kidney disorders and pregnant women because it may induce premature labor.