Catnip for babies, bugs and garden

Catnip growing by Zucchini plants to help with pest control
Catnip growing by Zucchini plants to help with pest control


Common Name: Catnip

Latin Name: Nepeta cataria

Family: Lamiaceae

Part(s) Used: Arial parts; leaves and flowers in full bloom

Constituents: Acetic Acid, Biotin, Buteric Acid, Choline, Citral, Dipentene, Inositol, Lifronella, Limonene, Geraniol, Citral, Dispentine, Thymol, Citronellol, Carotinoids, Nerol, Maganese, Nepetalic Acid, Volatile Oils, PABA, Phosphorus, Sodium, Sulfur, Valeric Acid (?), Nepetalactone, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, Vitamin C. 0.3% Volatile Oil (1)

Energetics: Cooling and relaxing

Actions: Diaphoretic, Stomachic, Relaxant, Diffusant, Anti-Spasmodic Nervine, Aromatic, Insect Repellant


Properties: Catnip is essential for any herbal medicine chest including remedies for children. This humble weed has a variety of uses and is a herb you do not want to be without through the teething years.

One of the first things you’ll notice about fresh Catnip is its pungent, aromatic, slightly sweet, and vaguely minty odor. Simply brushing the leaves of a fresh plant- especially one in flower- will unfurl a cascade of delightful scent! Indeed, familiarity with the scent is a sure way to distinguish Catnip from other members of the mint family which may look similar.

Catnip leaves (Nepeta cataria) emerging in the spring.
Catnip leaves (Nepeta cataria) emerging in the spring.

One of my favourite ways to use Catnip is as a “glycerite”, or glycerin tincture. As a “single”- a tincture of just Catnip- it can be put to good use in the treatment of fevers and fussiness of teething. Catnip is a diaphoretic- meaning it makes you sweat- and this is of good service in infant and childhood fevers. Catnip tincture will help to lower fevers by gently and safely relaxing the body and allowing the excess heat to be carried off through the sweat. This will simultaneously relax young children and it is not surprising to see a restless, feverish, teething baby drift off into a gentle sleep, cooler and more comfortable after a few doses of catnip glycerite. Warm catnip tea can be used in the same manner as the tincture for teething babies. The tincture is a little simpler to use as it can be prepared ahead of time. Catnip also combines well in a glycerin tincture with Rose Hips and Fennel, the combination helping to relieve teething pain as well as the discomfort of upset stomachs.

Glycerin Tincture for teething pain, upset tummies and fussiness.
Glycerin Tincture for teething pain, upset tummies and fussiness.

Catnip, combined with peppermint, is a tea I like to use for older children who are fussy with what they eat.
Many children will tolerate a peppermint and catnip tea, sweetened with a little honey. This is a good drink to help lower fevers in children as well as help settle sore tummies. Were there is fever, achy muscles and stuffiness, it is also helpful to add elderflower to the tea. Catnip tea makes an excellent and safe addition to baths. Try brewing some catnip tea and adding the tea to the bath before bedtime to help calm a settle restless, over excited children. Catnip tea or tincture can be taken before meals as a digestive aid.

Catnip flower through a micro lens
Catnip flower through a micro lens

“Nepetalactone” is the chemical compound in Catnip that is most well known and most studied for its physiological and insect repelling effects. Nepetalactone has a number of isomers present in catnip and makes up 70-99% of the essential oil of Catnip. The chemical structure of nepetalactone is similar to the chemical structure of the valepotriates derived from Valerian. Valepotriates are beleived to have a relaxing effect on muscles. Nepetalactone is the compound responsible for Catnip’s stimulating effect on cats, as well as its insect repelling properties and relaxing effects on humans. Nepetalactone binds to receptors in the nasal tissue of felines and triggers sensory neurons, resulting in the typical reaction of cats to smelling catnip. Domestic and wild cats including cougars, bobcats, lions and lynx will respond to the nepetalactone, but the behaviour is inherited and 10-30% of domestic cats will not react.

Also remarkable is the effect that catnip has on insects. Catnip has long been a “folk remedy” for repelling mosquitos. Indeed, I have met horse keepers who have brewed catnip tea by the barrelful and then used this to spray down the horse stalls, thereby protecting the horses from mosquitos. And science has backed up the insect repelling properties of Catnip and of nepetalactone in particular. Neptalactone is much more repelling to mosquitos than DEET, its only drawback being that the repelling effect wears off somewhat quickly and catnip extract may need to be applied frequently (every half hour or so) to maintain its great effectiveness at repelling mosquitos. This is not really a problem, though, as there are no negative side effects to frequent applications of catnip. Catnip extract is the main ingredient in our popular Get Lost spray, and is also in our Baby Bug A Bye Lotion and Baby Bug A Bye Salve.
Catnip’s effect on insects is also beneficial in the garden. It attracts lacewings which eat aphids and mites. Every year I make sure there are Catnip plants in close proximity to our squashes, including pumpkins and zucchini to help keep the aphids at bay.

Contraindications/Safety Considerations: None Known

For more information about using Catnip for your family’s health, including recipes, please look to our Etsy Shop. We will soon be adding detailed plant monographs, complete with recipes, directions and harvesting info, to our shop!

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