Catnip (Nepeta cataria), native of Europe and central Asia belongs to the family Lamiaceae. It also grows naturally now in North America and Canada. Catnip is also known as catmint or catswort. It is a perennial and short lived plant which can grow up to 2-3 feet tall. It looks similar to mint plant and also has the fragrance of mint. The stems of catnip are erect and branched. Leaves are grayish green in color and flowers are scented and white in color with purple and pink spots in between.
As catnip is showy and tolerant to drought, it is usually grown in gardens for ornamental purposes. It’s widely used as a mosquito and fly repellent since the plant contains properties of a compound called as nepetalactone. Catnip acts as an organic pesticide because it attracts insects called as lacewings which eat mites and aphids. Therefore, catnip prevents the damage of crops. It can also attract butterflies and bees which help in pollination of other plants.
Cats are also attracted by catnip due to nepetalactone. Catnip helps to treat insomnia (sleeplessness), headaches, stress, nervousness and anxiety. It is also effective for indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, stomach problems, cramps, bladder dysfunction, gas and flatulence. It can kill and remove the worms present in your stomach and it is safe even for children. It can also reduce fever and cough and promotes sweating. Studies have shown that it has the ability to heal wounds and it also has anesthetic (numbness), antibiotic and diuretic properties. It can also be used to treat acne and dandruff. It also has culinary uses and catnip leaves are used in soups and salad dressings and to marinate meat. Dried leaves or powder can be used to prepare refreshing mint flavored tea.
**Catnip should be avoided by people who are epileptic and by pregnant and breast feeding women.