Catnip – Nepeta Cataria: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Nightcap of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

In Chippewa, gajugens’ibug meaning “little-cat leaf”, catnip isn’t native to Ontario, but at least it’s not aggressive. It’s a surprisingly useful edible and medicinal plant, if you’re not pregnant. And whether or not you’re a cat.

Catnip (nepeta cataria) is uncommon around Haliburton, but I find it around old farmsteads. It may also show up in open sandy waste sites, which like roadsides are a catch-all for introduced species. Catnip is from the mint family of which we have natives like Canada mint, some heal-all, and monarda SPP.

Catnip - Nepeta Cataria
Catnip – Nepeta Cataria

Edible Uses of Catnip

The young leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or even candied. The older leaves can be used for flavoring. They have a mild balsam/mint scent and flavor. The first time I sniffed it I wondered if I was imagining the mint.

The leaves can be steeped fresh or dried for tea.

But don’t consume it if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.

Medicinal Uses of Catnip

Catnip is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Nervous
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antispasmodic, Carminative, Emmenagogue, Febrifuge and Nervine. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a tea for balancing frayed nerves or as a nightcap for a temporary insomnia problem. Wild bergamot (modarda fistulosa) is more for long term insomnia. If insomniacs find both helpful they can alternative between the two and other sedative herbal teas. But catnip is one to skip if you’re pregnant or trying, because..

Fresh juice taken at 3 Tbsp daily may bring on a period. Catnips uterine stimulation has it on many a no-go list for expectant moms. The tea may also help with menstrual cramps.

It’s also popular for flus and colds with a fever, in the off chance a fever needs to be lowered. It’s sometimes combined with black elderberry, yarrow, boneset and even cayenne for this.

There are many more traditional uses, but some may be disappointing. For instance, people have tried smoking the leaves to get high, but the hallucinogenic effect only works on cats.

Catnip - Nepeta Cataria
Catnip – Nepeta Cataria

Alternative Uses of Catwort

There’s a meme about catnip (it’s the oil inside) repelling rodents and insects, but in the meme a cat or cats have taken over the garden. Besides getting about 2/3rd of cats high (I feel kind of bad for the 1/3rd), cats who refuse to use scratching pads may be encouraged by the nip being rubbed on approved scratch-spots. It’s also a treat for them.

Here’s one of my babies first time on the nip:

The insect repellant claims in this case are legit. The oil repels rodents and some insects. But you have to crush the plant to release the oil, or extract the oil with other methods to get the good stuff.

Growing Nepeta Cataria

While catnip has catmint as a folk name, there’s at least one other catmint too. Folk names can be confusing! Speaking of confusing, I bought some “anise hyssop” that actually turned out to be catnip. I’m not sure how the mix up happened as it was a native plant sale, and catnip isn’t native, and certainly isn’t anise.

At least this plant seems unusually non-aggressive for an introduced species, and it’s listed only as a minor invasive. I’m planning to move it to alongside my cabin instead of ripping it out, for now anyway.


Don’t consume if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

The Herb Bible

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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