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  • Nepeta cataria
  • Origin: USA


Common Name

Standardized: catnip
Other: jia jing jie, catmint

Botanical Name

Nepeta cataria L.
Plant Family: Lamiaceae


The ultimate feline herb, for centuries cats have been going crazy over this plant. It makes them happy and spunky, yet has a more sedating effect on people. Catnip has been used in European folk medicine for generations as a calming agent for body and mind. It is gentle and is very useful for children and infants with digestive or emotional disturbances. The essential oil has been used as a fragrance in perfumes, as a culinary flavoring, and more recently, as an insect repellant.


Catnip is a gray-green perennial with the square stems and terminal flower spikes typical of the Mint or Lamiaceae family. It has fuzzy, heart-shaped, toothed leaves and grows 2-3 feet tall.5 It is native to the dry and temperate Mediterranean area in Europe, Asia, and Africa,6 and was introduced to the many parts of the world, particularly North America, by European settlers,5 and is now widely naturalized and cultivated extensively in gardens and for commerce. N. cataria is one of 250 species in its genus and is often confused with N. mussinnii or catmint.6 A few other species, N. glechoma, N. hindostana, N. tenufolia, and N. japonica have similar qualities and thus have been used in traditional herbal healing as well.7 The generic name Nepeta is believed to be related to the ancient Etruscan city, Nepete.8

Cultivation And Harvesting

For commercial purposes, catnip is gathered from naturalized populations in North Carolina and Virginia. It is cultivated extensively for the herbal marketplace in Washington State, various countries in Europe, and in Argentina.4

History And Folklore

Used in traditional medicine in Europe for centuries, and first mentioned in the poetic 11th century herbal, De viribus herbarum,9 catnip was prized for its ability to calm occasional nervousness and promote restful sleep.10 It was employed as a relaxant and diaphoretic, and was thus helpful in cases of occasional pain and restlessness Considered extremely useful in children, it was often used to support healthy digestion and soothe the stomach. It was also employed in cases of headache and to support the menstrual cycle.10 Further, it was applied externally as a poultice to decrease swelling.10 Catnip may be made into a juice too for topical application as was the practice by Nicholas Culpepper (a 17th century botanist, avid astrologer, physician, and herbalist) saying that 'the juice drunk in wine is good for bruises.' It is mainly the flowering tops, dried for tea or fresh as an essential oil that are used, but there are accounts of the root being used too. According to Maude Grieve, author of A Modern Herbal (which isn't really that modern anymore as it was published in 1931) the root can be stimulating to the point of aggression10…so perhaps its best to stick with the above ground parts. In France, catnip was grown for medicinal and culinary purposes. The leaves and young shoots were added to sauces and stews for flavor (which somewhat resemble a mix of mint and pennyroyal).10

Schizonepeta, Nepeta tenuifolia, or jing jie in Chinese, is the species used in traditional Chinese medicine. It has some similar uses and is employed for headache and to support healthy skin.11

Catnip was part of American folk medicine and Native American healing systems, and employed as a gentle tea for children in cases of stomach distress, headache, sleeplessness, and nervousness.6 Catnip was used by the Hoh, Delaware, and Iroquois tribes for children's complaints due to its mild nature. The Cherokee used the plant similarly to other indigenous groups and also considered it to be an overall strengthening tonic. They chose this herb when a sedative was needed in cases of irritability, insomnia, just like the Europeans.12 In the southwestern United States, catnip or 'nebada' amongst the Spanish speakers, was utilized in traditional folk medicine to allay a range of digestive problems. It was considered particularly useful for soothing the stomach and enhancing digestion in infants. Also, it was sold as a brandy infusion with 'hinojo' or fennel as a digestive tonic.2 Catnip is an antispasmodic for soothing stomach complaints and therefore good in a laxative formula with harsh herbs like senna.5 Some herbalists find it helpful to balance physical manifestations such as headache or indigestion that stem from emotional issues or the "gut level".5 This herb is energetically considered to be slightly warming11 and thus useful as a diaphoretic to bring on perspiration.4,5 More recently catnip essential oil has shown great potential as an effective insect repellant.13-15

Herbal Actions

Calmative,5 diaphoretic, relaxant, carminative, astringent, digestive stimulant, insect repellant (volatile oil), emmenagogue, tonic10

Uses And Preparations

Dried leaves, and/or whole flowering top and leaf, as a tea, sachet, or tincture
Fresh leaves, and/or whole flowering top as an essential oil, or tincture


Volatile oils containing nepetalactone, tannins, bitter principle

Scientific Research

Research suggests catnip is effective as mosquito repellent. Its volatile oils have shown repellant effect in 13 insect families.16-18

Herbal Miscellany

One version of an old adage regarding the relationship between cats and catnip is this: 'If you set it, the cats will eat it, If you sow it, the cats don't know it.' This folk myth suggests that when plants are grown from seed, or 'sown' cats don't bother the plant, but when they are transplanted, cats will destroy it.10 The feline's attraction to this plant is curious indeed, and in fact, referred to as the "the catnip response."3 It is not just observed in domesticated housecats, but also in jaguars, tigers, leopards, lions, and several other large cats. It elicits behaviors such as chewing and head shaking, rolling around on the floor, and even arouses sexual desire;3 this response lasts from 15 minutes to 1hour. They are responding to the scent of nepetalactone in catnip, the aromatherapeutic element being more powerful than taking it internally.3,6


Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?2721. July 5, 2014.
  2. Moore M. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe. New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press; 1990.
  3. Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
  4. Mills, S. (1988). The dictionary of modern herbalism. Healing Arts Press.
  5. Weiss, G., & Weiss, S. (1985). Growing & using the healing herbs. Rodale Press.
  6. Foster, S. (1993). Herbal renaissance. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith 234p. ISBN, 879055235.
  7. Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on July 5, 2014.
  8. Missouri Botanical Gardens. Accessed at http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=e330 on July 8, 2014.
  9. Riddle, J. M. (1994). Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Harvard University Press.
  10. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover Books; 1971. Accessed at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/o/oats–03.html on June 19, 2014.
  11. Bensky, D., Gamble, A., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (1993). Chinese herbal medicine: materia medica.
  12. Hamel, P. B., & Chiltoskey, M. U. (1975). Cherokee plants and their uses.
  13. Nostro, A., Angela Cannatelli, M., Crisafi, G., & Alonzo, V. (2001). The effect of Nepeta cataria extract on adherence and enzyme production of Staphylococcus aureus. International journal of antimicrobial agents, 18(6), 583-585.
  14. Miceli, N., Taviano, M. F., Giuffrida, D., Trovato, A., Tzakou, O., & Galati, E. M. (2005). Anti-inflammatory activity of extract and fractions from Nepeta sibthorpii Bentham. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 97(2), 261-266.
  15. Bourrel, C., Perineau, F., Michel, G., & Bessiere, J. M. (1993). Catnip (Nepeta cataria L.) essential oil: analysis of chemical constituents, bacteriostatic and fungistatic properties. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 5(2), 159-167.
  16. Peterson C, Rowley W, Coats J. Catnip Essential Oil as a Mosquito Repellent. American Chemical Society’s 222nd National Meeting, 2001 Aug 26-30; Chicago.
  17. Peterson C, Coats J. Insect Repellents – Past, Present and Future. Pesticide Outlook 2001;12(4):154-158.
  18. Peterson, C. J., & Ems-Wilson, J. (2003). Catnip essential oil as a barrier to subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in the laboratory. Journal of economic entomology, 96(4), 1275-1282.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.