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Medically reviewed on Feb 12, 2018

Scientific Name(s): Nepeta cataria L. Family: Lamiaceae (mints)

Common Name(s): Catnip , catnep , catmint , catswort , field balm


There is little clinical data to support any use of catnip in humans, except as an insect repellant.


There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of catnip. Traditional doses for sedation require 4 g of dried herb, usually given as a tea. A 15% lotion of the essential oil has been used as an insect repellant.


None well documented.


Documented adverse effects when consumed (eg, emmenagogue and abortifacient effects). Avoid use.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Headache and malaise have been reported.


Information is lacking.


Catnip is an aromatic perennial herb native to central Europe and now naturalized throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. This plant grows to approximately 1 m and has dark green, oval-toothed leaves. The medicinal components of the plant are its dried leaves and white flowering tops, which are gathered during summer and autumn. 1 , 2 , 3


Catnip is widely recognized for its ability to elicit euphoria in some, but not all, cats including domestic and large cats (eg, tigers, jaguars). The catnip response has been described in detail, ranging from stretching and animation to euphoria and sexual stimulation. 4

The plant's leaves and shoots have been used as a flavoring in sauces, soups, and stews, and in several patented beverages, as well as in fruit table wines and liquors.

The use of catnip leaves and flowers in herbal teas was documented at least as early as 1735 in the General Irish Herbal . Medicinally, the plant has been used as an antispasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, sedative, and stomachic. Additionally, the plant has been used to treat diarrhea, colic, the common cold, and cancer. In Appalachia, nervous conditions, stomach ailments, hives, and the common cold have been treated with catnip tea. The dried leaves have been smoked to relieve respiratory ailments, and a poultice has been used externally to reduce swelling. In the early 1900s, the flowering tops and leaves were used to induce delayed menses. During the 1960s, catnip was reportedly smoked for its euphoric effects. 2 , 3 , 5 , 6


More than 20 different compounds have been identified, with considerable variation, depending on vegetation period and region of growth.

Sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes are abundant in the plant, and nepetalactones and beta-caryophyllenes have been identified by various methods, including gas chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 Nepetalactones may possess the main cat-attractant activity, as well as being structurally similar to the valeprotriates from valerian. The major constituents elucidated from catnip essential oil include geranyl acetate, citronellyl acetate, citronellol, geraniol, cineol, pinene, and humulene. Other compounds include camphor, thymol, carvacrol, nerol, nepetaside, tannins, iridoids, and numerous other components. 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15

Uses and Pharmacology

Antimicrobial activity

A diethyl ether extract from N. cataria has shown antimicrobial activity against fungi and gram-positive bacteria. 16 Clinical data are lacking.

CNS effects
Animal data

Stimulant (amphetamine-like) effects and other behavioral changes caused by catnip have been investigated in rodents; catnip oil and nepetalic acid increased induced sleeping time and decreased performance. 17 , 18 In another report, high levels of catnip alcohol extract caused fewer chicks to sleep, while low to moderate dosing caused more chicks to sleep. 19

Clinical data

No clinical evidence exists to support the use of catnip as a CNS stimulant. Older reports (1960s) on the use of catnip for CNS effects exist, with euphoric states being described; however, the identity of the plants has been questioned. 20 , 21 There is one case report of an infant with CNS depression after consuming a large amount of catnip. 22


Catnip tea is commonly cited as an herbal remedy for colic. An in vitro experiment using guinea-pig trachea and rabbit jejunum describes spasmolytic and myorelaxant action of catnip essential oil similar to that of papaverine, which may support traditional catnip tea use. Clinical data, however, are lacking to support this observation. 6 , 12

Insect repellant

The nepetalactones and iridoids have been investigated for their herbicide and insecticidal activity.

Field studies in the United States have evaluated catnip oil for repellant activity against mosquitoes, black flies, stable flies, and deer ticks. A 15% lotion provided 6 hours protection in 1 study. 23 , 24 , 25 Attraction inhibition has been described as greater than diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET). Repellant activity against cockroaches has also been described. 14 , 26


There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of catnip. Traditional doses for sedation require 4 g of herb, usually given as a tea. A 15% lotion of the essential oil has been used as an insect repellant. 25


Documented adverse effects (eg, emmenagogue and abortifacient effects). Avoid use. 27


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Data are limited. Excessive ingestion may result in headache and malaise.


The intraperitoneal median lethal dose for catnip oil is 1,300 mg/kg. 8 Severe physical effects after catnip abuse are usually absent; however, reports exist of limited symptoms, generally consisting of headache and malaise. Large amounts of tea may induce emesis. The ingestion of a cupful of catnip tea has not been associated with any important toxicity. 2 , 3


1. Nepeta cataria L. USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (, August 2009 ). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants . New York, NY: DK Publishing; 1996: 237.
3. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics . 2nd ed. New York, NY: J Wiley; 1996: 137-138.
4. Tucker AO, Tucker SS. Catnip and the catnip response. Econ Bot . 1988;42(2):214-231.
5. Boyd E, Shimp LA, Hackney M. Home Remedies and the Black Elderly: A Reference Manual for Health Care Providers . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan; 1984.
6. Smitherman LC, Janisse J, Mathur A. The use of folk remedies among children in an urban black community: remedies for fever, colic, and teething. Pediatrics . 2005;115(3):e297-e304.
7. Baranauskiene R, Venskutonis RP, Demyttenaere JC. Sensory and instrumental evaluation of catnip ( Nepeta cataria L.) aroma. J Agric Food Chem . 2003;51(13):3840-3848.
8. Duke J. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.
9. Xie S, Uesato S, Inouye H, et al. Absolute structure of nepetaside, a new iridoid glucoside from Nepeta cataria . Phytochemistry . 1988;27(2):469-472.
10. Murai F, Tagawa M, Damtoft S, Jensen SR, Nielsen BJ. (1R,5R,8S,9S)-Deoxyloganic acid from Nepeta cataria . Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) . 1984;32(7):2809-2814.
11. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants . Paris, France: Lavoisier; 1995: 475-476.
12. Gilani AH, Shah AJ, Zubair A, et al. Chemical composition and mechanisms underlying the spasmolytic and bronchodilatory properties of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria L. J Ethnopharmacol . 2009;121(3):405-411.
13. Heuskin S, Godin B, Leroy P, et al. Fast gas chromatography characterisation of purified semiochemicals from essential oils of Matricaria chamomilla L. (Asteraceae) and Nepeta cataria L. (Lamiaceae). J Chromatogr A . 2009;1216(14):2768-2775.
14. Peterson CJ, Nemetz LT, Jones LM, Coat JR. Behavioral activity of catnip (Lamiaceae) essential oil components to the German cockroach (Blattodea: Blattellidae). J Econ Entomol . 2002;95(2):377-380.
15. Tulp M, Bohlin L. Unconventional natural sources for future drug discovery. Drug Discov Today . 2004;9(10):450-458.
16. Nostro A, Cannatelli MA, Crisafi G, Alonzo V. The effect of Nepeta cataria extract on adherence and enzyme production of Staphylococcus aureus . Int J Antimicrob Agents . 2001;18(6):583-585.
17. Massoco CO, Silva MR, Gorniak SL, Spinosa MS, Bernardi MM. Behavioral effects of acute and long-term administration of catnip ( Nepeta cataria ) in mice. Vet Hum Toxicol . 1995;37(6):530-533.
18. Harney JW, Barofsky IM, Leary JD. Behavioral and toxicological studies of cyclopentanoid monoterpenes from Nepeta cataria . Lloydia . 1978;41(4):367-374.
19. Sherry CJ, Hunter PS. The effect of an ethanol extract of catnip ( Nepeta cataria ) on the behavior of the young chick. Experientia . 1979;35(2):237-238.
20. Jackson B, Reed A. Catnip and the alteration of consciousness. JAMA . 1969;207(7):1349-1350.
21. Petersik JT, Poundstone J, Estes JW, et al. Of cats, catnip, and Cannabis. JAMA . 1969;208:360.
22. Osterhoudt KC, Lee SK, Callahan JM, Henretig FM. Catnip and the alteration of human consciousness. Vet Hum Toxicol . 1997;39(6):373-375.
23. Bernier UR, Furman KD, Kline DL, Allan SA, Barnard DR. Comparison of contact and spatial repellency of catnip oil and N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (deet) against mosquitoes. J Med Entomol . 2005;42(3):306-311.
24. Feaster JE, Scialdone MA, Todd RG, Gonzalez YI, Foster JP, Hallahan DL. Dihydronepetalactones deter feeding activity by mosquitoes, stable flies, and deer ticks. J Med Entomol . 2009;46(4):832-840.
25. Spero NC, Gonzalez YI, Scialdone MA, Hallahan DL. Repellency of hydrogenated catmint oil formulations to black flies and mosquitoes in the field. J Med Entomol . 2008;45(6):1080-1086.
26. Peterson CJ, Ems-Wilson J. Catnip essential oil as a barrier to subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in the laboratory. J Econ Entomol . 2003;96(4):1275-1282.
27. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109(3):227-235.

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