Catnip, sometimes also called catmint or field balm, is a plant in the mint family. This perennial plant originates in Europe and is found in the wild across the U.S and Canada.
You may be familiar with catnip’s euphoric effects on cats. Dried catnip is often found in cat toys and is used to change cat behavior. Catnip tea, herb, and tincture are also sold in health food stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies for human use. Catnip tea, like other herbal teas, is made by introducing boiling water to the dried plant and steeping for a maximum of 10 minutes.
Catnip tea was traditionally used as an herbal medicine for restlessness, nervousness and nervous disorders, coughs, asthma, gas, and diarrhea. Today dried catnip is added to foods for flavour, used as an herbal supplement, and brewed in tea.
While there isn’t much research on the plant, there may be mild health benefits to drinking catnip tea.
Reliable nutrition information isn’t readily available for catnip because so little of it is sold for human consumption. However, it’s reasonable to assume that catnip tea, like all other teas, has little to no protein, fats, and carbohydrates when drunk on its own.
Catnip is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids and phenolic acids. These include:
- Caffeic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
- Coumaric acid
Studies show that rosmarinic acid has stronger antioxidant effects than vitamin E. Antioxidants prevent cell damage caused by free radicals, and reduce the risk of cancer and atherosclerosis. Rosmarinic acid is also used to treat stomach ulcers and asthma.
Potential Health Benefits of Catnip Tea
Catnip is an aromatic plant that contains antioxidants and volatile compounds like nepetalactone, thymol, and pinene that may have medicinal benefits.
When catnip is dried and used in tea, the hot water releases some of these compounds, which you both inhale and consume as you drink. Based on the presence of these volatile compounds, catnip tea may have the following health benefits:
Catnip may help relax the body before bed and promote rest. Its calming properties come from its nepetalactone and nepetalactone acid compounds.
Reduced Nervousness and Anxiety
In animal studies, catnip reduces anxiety. While there isn’t enough research to determine if this is the case in humans, the nepetalactone in catnip may reduce nervousness, anxiousness, and restlessness.
Less Gas and Stomach Cramps
Historically, catnip was used for diarrhea, gas, and stomach cramps. It’s said to relieve muscle spasms in the intestinal tract. Drinking catnip tea may soothe the digestive system.
Relief of Colic
Many groups of people have traditionally used catnip tea to relieve infants’ colic and help babies to sleep at night.
Few studies have been done on the safety of catnip for infants. Because catnip is a sedative that can cause vomiting in older children, it is not recommended that you give your colicky baby catnip tea. If you have plans to try this remedy, you should consult with your doctor first.
Potential Risks of Catnip Tea
People have been drinking catnip tea for hundreds of years, and it’s likely safe to consume up to three cups a day. However, we don’t know very much about how this plant affects human health. There may be some potential risks to consider, including:
Excessive drowsiness may occur if you combine catnip tea with sleeping medication. This may also occur with catnip alongside hops, kava, valerian, or St. John’s wort. You should avoid drinking catnip tea before driving or operating machinery.
Upset Stomach and Vomiting
You may experience an upset stomach after drinking catnip tea. Some people drink catnip tea to relieve digestive problems, but some people may not tolerate it well. Stop drinking catnip tea if it continues to cause an upset stomach after a few uses. Both adults and children may vomit from drinking too much catnip tea.
If you’re allergic to other plants in the mint family, you may also have an allergic reaction to catnip.
Illness in Children and Pregnant Adults
Larger amounts of catnip tea may cause vomiting in children. There have also been some documented adverse effects of drinking catnip tea in pregnancy. Although catnip tea has been marketed as a cure for colic and morning sickness, it’s best for infants and anybody who is pregnant to avoid catnip.
Sedative herbs like catnip may interact with certain medications. These include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Over-the-counter cough and cold medications that contain diphenhydramine or doxylamine
- Insomnia drugs