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Helpful Herbs: Catnip

You may grow it for your cats or just because it’s such a hardy little herb, but did you know that catnip also has a lot of benefits for human health? This exceptionally easy to grow perennial thrives in almost all conditions, and can be left alone to grow wild or be regularly cultivated for a variety of uses.

Drought tolerant, catnip is usually grown from seeds indoors and then transplanted out in spring. If you have any intentions of harvesting your plants, make sure they are protected from cats with a wire or mesh cover, or in an area the cats do not frequent. A plant will most likely survive a feline visit, but it will not thrive in those conditions. Catnip can also be grown indoors in a sunny area if kept well watered. It requires little if any fertilizer and tolerates most soil types.

In addition to being tantalizing for cats, ‘nip is also known to attract butterflies and bees with its aromatic flowers. It will spread quickly and you will need to remove any flowers before they turn to seed if you want to control its growth.

As I’m sure many of you have seen, catnip drives felines absolutely wild. Performing as a sedative, catnip effects about 50% of cats with a stimulant called nepetalactone. It’s said to cause a reaction similar to LSD or marijuana in humans. Cats tend to build up a tolerance, so it’s recommended to only offer catnip as a treat every few weeks. Cats enjoy catnip fresh off the plant, but you can also dry it and still get the same reaction from your pet months later. This is usually the easiest way to store a quantity of the plant – dry it, and crush up the leaves into a fine powder that can be kept in a dry container.

In addition to driving your cat wild, catnip also can help your health. Nepetalactone has a similar but reduced effect on humans, and can be used as a tea or garnish to help reduce chronic stress or anxiety. Catnip has been used as a tea to reduce symptoms of insomnia for centuries, and in ancient folklore was said to calm nightmares and fits in children. It does not give humans any hallucinations or other psychological side effects.

In modern times catnip is more commonly used to calm digestive issues and menstrual cramps. Again taken as a tea, it will help to soothe internal distress and relieve discomfort. Catnip does contain many anti-inflammatories, making it a topical solution for many skin irritations and small wounds.

Such a handy herb should not be relegated simply to amusing your pet – although I would definitely set some aside for your feline friends. A tea or salve will also help your health and and relieve many common symptoms.


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