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For human animals, the term catnip is usually meant figuratively to mean anything attractive or irresistible. But if you’ve long felt a connection to the divine feline, it may be time to start consuming some actual catnip. Sure, share with any cat companions in your home, but save some for yourself.
Many of us are familiar with the pawing, rolling, and general nuttiness some cats display when given a bit of catnip. This behavior has been well-documented, not only in about 2/3 of house cats but also in ocelots, lions, jaguars, and leopards.
What’s more, Nepetalactone (one of catnip’s essential oils) has also been found to help some cats suffering from acute stress.
But that’s not all. A report from BMV Veterinary Research reveals that domestic cats can benefit from getting more olfactory enrichment. Why? Cats have an incredible sense of smell—about fourteen times that of humans. In fact, they even have a snazzy organ located at the top of their mouth. It’s called the Jacobson’s organ, and it gives your cat a super smell sense for detecting pheromones. If you see Fluffy with her mouth partly open and her top lip kinda curled up, that might be what she’s up to. (Interestingly, smell is important to other animals, including elephants, cattle, dogs, cats, goats, pigs, giraffes, snakes, lizards, and bears, all of whom have vomeronasal systems. Humans? Well, that’s quite the debate.)
Biology tangent aside, engaging your cat’s super smell powers can help aid in his or her wellbeing. Beyond catnip (Nepeta cataria), the aforementioned report suggested trying silver vine (matatabi), valerian root, or tatarian honeysuckle for socializing cats and for use in trap-neuter-return programs.
Few cat-lovers know that catnip has long been considered a useful plant medicine for humans too. Consider this concoction from the Old English Herbarium, a widely used book of remedies from the tenth century: “For snakebite, take the plant that we call nepitamon, pound it in wine, wring out the juice, and give it to drink in wine. Then take the pounded leaves of the same plant and lay them on the wound.”
The origins of this recipe go even farther back—to a Latin text from the fifth century! In fact, throughout the ages, catnip has been recommended for everything from inducing menstruation, assisting reproduction, reducing soreness from breastfeeding, lessening the pain of toothaches, and even as a cold remedy. And generations of parents have passed down catnip remedies to treat childrens’ colic.
Starting in the 1960s, some folks seeking to expand their consciousness even smoked it. As a person in long-term recovery, I prefer spiritual practice for my consciousness expansion, but the other recommendations got me thinking. Should I be using catnip? I asked. Soon, I found several compelling reasons to answer “yes!”
1. As a natural insect repellent. A study published in Current Biology suggests that catnip can act as a broad-acting insect repellent. Researchers observed that southern wood ants, fruit flies, and certain mosquitoes avoided the plant itself or catnip-coated items.
Consider planting a clump in a corner of your garden. Then, when outside, just rub a few leaves vigorously between your hands and wipe them on your skin, or mix some catnip oil with water or witch hazel to create an easy spray.
2. To chillax! Catnip may also affect human moods, especially by improving relaxation. The entry for catnip in Clare Harvey’s The Practitioner’s Encyclopedia of Flower Remedies reads: “Catnip brings people closer together, enhancing friendships and common bonds. Indicated for those who feel socially inhibited or in unfamiliar social situations. It softens perceived boundaries, eliminating apprehension, promoting contentment.”
[Read: “Three Tools for Managing Social Anxiety.”]
To see if it helps you chill, try a few drops of HawaiiPharm’s liquid catnip extract in your water or with juice. If you are taking sedatives already, make sure to check for drug interactions with your prescribing doctor—or you might find yourself too knocked out.
On the other hand, a double-blind, randomized controlled trial suggested that a type of nepata grown in Iran may help treat major depression. So, if you suffer from the blues, it might be worth discussing the study with your psychiatrist.
3. In nighty-night tea. Trouble sleeping? There’s some evidence that a hot cup of catnip tea might be just the trick for treating sleep disorders. Try pouring hot water over Celebration Herbals’ Catnip Leaf & Blossom tea and see if you doze off for a catnap, or better yet, a whole night of shut-eye.
[Read our free e-book “Tea: Handheld Meditations.”]
Of course, as with any herbal remedy or supplement, consult with your physician on whether catnip might be suitable for you. For example, you should definitely avoid it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease, or have menorrhagia since it can stimulate your uterus. Also not a good idea to give to the kiddos.
Finally, if you aren’t growing your own nip, make sure to purchase it from a reputable botanical supplement company—not your local pet store.
And keep your stash separate from your cat’s. You know how territorial they can be.
Got a troubled feline? Check out "Reiki for Stressed-Out Cats" or this playlist for nervous cats.
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