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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Catnip Leaves

Catnip (Nepeta cataria, also known as Catnep, Catmint, and Field Balm) is best known for its mysterious effect on cats, from the lowly barn cat to the mighty mountain lion. It's also a useful herb for humans. One of catnip's effects is to induce perspiration without raising body temperature. If you have a fever, catnip can help break it. If you have trouble sleeping, tricking your body into thinking it's warmer might help. On a hot summer's day, a little catnip tea can cool you off.

Catnip Leaves Give Cats A Harmless High But Helps Humans
The leaves, slightly larger than peppermint, are downy above and below. When its essential oil production reaches its peak, catnip is harvested. The leaves and fragrant flowers are then carefully dried to preserve these oils.As you might suspect, catnip got its name because of its affect on cats. Cats are most interested in the smell of the plant. Cats will rub against, bite, chew, and roll in catnip – generally go crazy for several minutes. This will release the volatile oil trapped in the leaves. Then suddenly the cat will lose interest and walk away. Two hours later he could return and do it. Why he acts like this we don’t know, we do know that it is related to the chemical nepetalactone in catnip. It is a reflex response, and, though a small percentage of cats are totally unaffected by it, even tigers can be sensitive to it.

Catnip has been used in the kitchen and in traditional herbal medicine for more than 2,000 years. Catnip tea was a favorite of the British before trade with the East brought great quantities of green tea and black tea to the island. It's a native of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, but catnip escapes its captors everywhere and grows wild under even the harshest conditions. Once catnip arrived on the shores of North America, Native Americans used it to treat colds, sore throats, fever, cough, and colic. As an herbal treatment, catnip sooths the stomach and digestive system. This means it aids with flatulence, diarrhea, and colic. As an enema it can cleanse and heal the lower bowel. Taken as a hot infusion, Catnip promotes sweating and this helps with colds, flu, fevers, and infectious diseases. It is soothing to the nervous system and can help to prevent a miscarriage, premature birth and to decrease symptoms of morning sickness.

Catnip is most commonly used as a digestive aid because it relieves stomach cramps, intestinal spasms, bloating and gas. It's even said in the old herbals that catnip will dispel nervous headaches. Drinking a nice, warm cup of tea containing catnip after eating a good meal will settle your stomach so you can relax and enjoy. A touch of lemon and honey make catnip tea heavenly.Catnip is not recommended in large quantities for pregnant women; take it as part of an infusion blend. Weak catnip tea is mild enough for babies who are eating solid food, but be double sure it's organic and free of pesticides. When combined with Spearmint, Lemongrass, Calendula flowers, Skullcap, Rosemary, Sage, and Fennel, Catnip makes a really lovely tea, and the effects of all these herbs used together enhances all.

Catnip is beneficial for young children. It stimulates the body, settles the stomach, and soothes the nerves. The combination of catnip with Fennel has long been used as a remedy for colic, gas, teething difficulties, and indigestion in children. It also helps clean out mucus in the body.

Combined with garlic’s infection fighting properties, the duo is a powerful enema. It has the ability to induce sleep while producing perspiration without increasing the heat of the system. This makes it a valuable drink when someone has a fever. Its sedative action on the nerves adds to its generally relaxing properties.

About the only culinary use of catnip is candied catnip as an after-dinner treat. Sprinkle sugar on catnip leaves coated with egg white and lemon juice glaze, let dry for a day, then consume. An interesting little treat the next time your in-laws come over for dinner.
As if its digestive settling properties weren't enough, catnip is also said to repel cockroaches, cure dandruff, and rid humans of worms. Folks say planting it around your house will bring you love and good luck--it will certainly bring you cats!

Catnip is a safe herb but must be stored properly. As is the case with most bulk herbs, Catnip should be stored in a dark, dry, and cool place. Refrigeration or freezing prolongs its value. The petalactone in catnip is UV photosensitive and, therefore, it is important that it be stored out of the sun. Some recommend caution for use by pregnant women but others say it is perfectly safe, even beneficial for expectant mothers.