Catnip plants (Nepeta cataria and other Nepeta species) are part of the Lamiaceae family to which mint also belongs and contain volatile oils. Originally from Europe, Asia, and Africa, it was imported to North America by settlers; nowadays, the plant is popular in gardens and grows widely as a weed.
The genus name, Nepeta, is a reference to Nepeta, which is an ancient Etruscan city. There are about 250 species of this genus, and catnip is one of them. The main ingredient of this plant is called nepetalactone and it affects the nervous system of cats and humans, albeit in different ways.
The names catnip and catmint are derived from the intense attraction about two-thirds of cats have toward them (alternative plants exist). In addition to its uses with cats, catnip is a popular ingredient in herbal teas (or tisanes) and is valued for its sedative and relaxant properties.
Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial, herbaceous plant that grows to be 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall and wide, which blooms from late spring through autumn. In appearance, Nepeta cataria resembles a typical member of the mint family of plants, featuring brown-green foliage with the characteristic square stem of the plant family Lamiaceae. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape. The small, bilabiate flowers of Nepeta cataria are fragrant and are either pink in color or white with fine spots of pale purple.
The name of the genus is found for the first time in the writings of Gaius Pliny the Second (Como, 23 - Stabiae, 25 August 79]) Roman writer, admiral and naturalist, and derives from an ancient Latin name (nepetum), of pre-Indo-European origin ( Mediterranean theme nepa) , for an aromatic plant originally from Nepi (Etruria).
The scientific name of the genus was defined by Linnaeus (1707 - 1778), also known as Carl von Linné, Swedish biologist and writer considered the father of the modern scientific classification of living organisms, in the publication "Species Plantarum - 2: 570. 1753" of 1753
Use and effect
Humans react differently to catnip. Native Americans once used this herb to calm the uncontrollable crying of children suffering from colic.
It is also still used as a mild sedative in some herbal teas. In alternative medicine circles, it is commonly recommended by herbalists to reduce migraines for colds and flu and is widely recognized for its ability to support the gastrointestinal tract, relieves flatulence, and even stop diarrhea, decrease insomnia., nervousness and anorexia by stimulating appetite, or is used as an herbal paste to reduce the swelling associated with arthritis and soft tissue injuries.
Catnip stimulates the appetite, aids digestion, helps calm nervous animals, and encourages quality sleep. Catnip is rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential acids.
Nepeta Cataria can also help fight headaches and even treat febrile states. It also finds various uses in natural cosmetics, as it has a perfuming, cleansing, and disinfecting action on the skin, proving to be excellent for foot baths.