Scientific Name(s): Nepeta cataria L.
Common Name(s): Catmint, Catnep, Catnip, Catrup, Catswort, Field balm
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 24, 2020.
There are little clinical data to support any use of catnip in humans, except as an insect repellant. Animal and in vitro studies provide limited data of N. cataria use as an antimicrobial agent or antidepressant.
There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of catnip. A 15% lotion of the essential oil has been used as an insect repellant.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Avoid use. Adverse effects (eg, emmenagogue and abortifacient effects) have been documented.
None well documented.
Headache, malaise, conjunctival irritation, and erythema have occurred.
Information is lacking.
- Lamiaceae (mint)
Catnip is an aromatic perennial herb native to central Europe, Southern Asia, and China.Fan 2017 It has been naturalized throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. The plant grows to approximately 1 m in height 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.Chevallier 1996, Leung 1996, USDA 2018
Catnip is widely recognized for its ability to elicit euphoria in some, but not all, cats, including domestic and large (eg, tigers, jaguars) cats. The catnip response has been described in detail, ranging from stretching and animation to euphoria and sexual stimulation.Tucker 1988 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. It has also been used in teas, dyes, and infusions.Bernardi 2011 The use of catnip leaves and flowers in herbal teas was documented as early as 1735 in the General Irish Herbal. Medicinally, the plant has been used as an antispasmodic, antipyretic, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, sedative, and stomachic.Fan 2017 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.Boyd 1984, Chevallier 1996, Leung 1996, Smitherman 2005
More than 20 different compounds have been identified from catnip, 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.Baranauskiene 2003, Bruneton 1995, Duke 2002, Gilani 2009, Heuskin 2009, Murai 1984, Peterson 2002, Xie 1988 Nepetalactones may possess the main cat-attractant activity and are 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.Baranauskiene 2003, Bruneton 1995, Duke 2002, Gilani 2009, Heuskin 2009, Murai 1984, Peterson 2002, Tulp 2004, Xie 1988
Uses and Pharmacology
One study in mice evaluated the antidepressant, anxiogenic, and motor activity effects of acute and repeated feeding with chow enriched with 10% catnip leaves and of acute and repeated administration of apolar or polar catnip extracts (48 mg/kg/day) for 7 days. Repeated feeding with enriched chow reduced immobility time. Those treated with the apolar extract in the open field test had decreased locomotor activity and rearing frequency and increased immobility time; these results were similar to those with the antidepressant fluoxetine. The behavioral despair test showed reduced immobility time in mice treated acutely and repeatedly with the apolar extract. Repeated administration of the apolar extract also decreased latency to first immobility. The study results indicated the catnip-enriched chow and apolar extract possessed antidepressant properties.Bernardi 2010 In another study, male rats fed chow enriched with 10% N. cataria leaves for 4 hours displayed antidepressant effects.Bernardi 2011
In vitro data
A diethyl ether extract from N. cataria has shown antimicrobial activity against fungi and gram-positive bacteria.Nostro 2001 In vitro, extracted essential oils from N. cataria showed antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi, and yeast, possibly attributable to the main component nepetalactone and its isomers. The methanolic extract of N. cataria also showed some antimicrobial activity.Adiguzel 2009 Methanolic and dichloromethane extracts of N. cataria were potent against several strains of bacteria, including Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, and Klebsiella pneumonia, which compared favorably with streptomycin for S. typhi and S. aureus. Activity was more pronounced against gram-positive bacteria. The flavones and flavonols present in the methanolic and dichloromethane extracts of catnip were considered to be responsible for the antimicrobial activity.Edewor 2011 Another study suggests antimicrobial activity is likely due to the nepetalactones in catnip oil; results showed a decrease in the size of microbial communities in media treated with encapsulated catnip oil.Zhu 2014 An in vitro disc diffusion test showed some activity against gram-negative bacteria and molds, as well as sensitivity to anaerobic bacteria.Nostro 2000 Essential oils extracted from N. cataria inhibited growth of gram-positive food-borne bacteria and demonstrated bactericidal activity against gram-positive bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria showed susceptibility at concentrations of 0.25 to 32 mcL/mL. During different growth stages, N. cataria essential oils showed bacteriostatic and bactericidal activities against the main food-borne pathogens through growth inhibition at concentrations of 0.125 to 2 mcL/mL, suggesting a beneficial role in development of antimicrobial and disinfectant agents.Zomorodian 2012 In vitro, essential oils of N. cataria inhibited growth of the standard and clinical isolates of Streptococci and demonstrated fungicidal activities against the standard species of Candida at concentrations of 1 to 4 mcL/mL and 0.125 to 1 mcL/mL, respectively.Zomorodian 2013
In vitro data
In an in vitro study, flavonoids were extracted from N. cataria L. to investigate the effects on the human cancer cell line A549 in non–small cell lung cancer. As flavonoid content increased, antitumor effect increased, as indicated by increased rates of apoptosis and necrosis rates in A549 cells. In the treatment group, mRNA levels of vascular endothelial growth factor and PI3K were downregulated and PTEN levels were upregulated in A549 cells. PI3K protein levels were upregulated, whereas AKT, Bcl-2, and CyclinB1 expression were downregulated. These results indicate that flavonoid extracts of N. cataria L. have anti–lung cancer activity through regulation of the PTEN/PI3K/AKT signaling pathway.Fan 2017 Further studies are needed.
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.Harney 1978, Massoco 1995 In one study, cats were exposed to 5 g of catnip placed in a sock or on carpet on 3 different days for up to 1 hour. Olafactory enrichment with plant materials, including catnip, can improve the quality of life of cats, increase playtime, help in socializing timid cats, or assist in training; through olfactory stimulation, the majority of cats in the study responded positively by sniffing, drooling, licking, rubbing their chins, and rolling on their backs. The findings suggest that cats respond to the dominant compound nepetalactone. Bobcats and tigers were also offered 20 g of catnip inside of a bag; response rate was low.Bol 2017 In another study, domestic cats from a shelter were exposed to 500 mg of dehydrated commercial catnip bags. All cats responded either actively (increases in rolling over or grooming) or passively (displaying a sphinx-like position, decreases in vocalizations and motor activity), suggesting that catnip regulates active and passive responses and possibly mediates some effects on gamma-aminobutyric acid and brain amines.Espin-Iturbe 2017
No clinical evidence exists to support the use of catnip as a CNS stimulant in humans. Older reports from the 1960s on the use of catnip for CNS effects exist, with euphoric states being described; however, the identity of the plants has been questioned.Jackson 1969, Petersik 1969 There is one case report of an infant with CNS depression after consuming a large amount of catnip.Osterhoudt 1997
Catnip tea is commonly cited as an herbal remedy for colic.
In vitro data
An in vitro experiment using guinea pig trachea and rabbit jejunum describes spasmolytic and myorelaxant actions of catnip essential oil similar to those of papaverine, which may support traditional catnip tea use in colic. Clinical data, however, are lacking to support this observation. Gilani 2009, Smitherman 2005
Animal and in vitro data
The nepetalactones and iridoids of catnip have been investigated for their herbicidal and insecticidal activities. Field studies in the United States have evaluated catnip oil for repellant activity against mosquitoes, black flies, stable flies, and deer ticks.Bernier 2005, Feaster 2009 Attraction inhibition has been described as greater than that of diethyltoluamide (DEET). Repellant activity against cockroaches has also been described.Peterson 2002, Peterson 2003 In one study, catnip oil components showed better biting deterrence of the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti L.) in vitro compared to control.Chauhan 2005 Catnip showed feeding repellency to houseflies, stable flies, and filth flies at doses of 2 mg and 20 mg.Zhu 2009 Filter paper treated with catnip oil 100 mg and wax-based catnip pellets (32 mg per pellet) spread on manure-soil areas of cow pastures both showed repellency to stable flies.Zhu 2010 In another study, 3 doses of catnip oil (0.2 mg, 2 mg, and 20 mg) were used to test feeding repellency. Catnip oil showed strong repellency to stable flies, with the highest dose providing better protection than the lower doses; the repellency of catnip oil was also significantly higher than that of DEET. Cloth treated with 100 mg of catnip oil for 6 hours showed very few eggs were laid, indicating oviposition repellency. During the study's field repellency test, catnip oil 15% and 30% provided repellency against stable flies.Zhu 2012 In oviposition cups treated with 500 mg of encapsulated catnip oil, strong inhibition of oviposition in stable flies was observed. Number of eggs laid on stable fly larval media was also reduced by 85% and more than 98% with treatment with 62.5 and 125 to 500 mg, respectively, of catnip oil capsules.Zhu 2014 Under laboratory conditions, a 20 mg dose of catnip oil showed strong antifeedancy and repellency against horn flies for 6 hours. Cattle sprayed with catnip oil 15% showed strong repellency to horn flies.Zhu 2015
A 15% lotion provided more than 6 hours of protection against black fly and mosquito bites in one study.Spero 2008 In another study, catnip oil components showed better biting deterrence of the yellow fever mosquito (A. aegypti L.) in human volunteers than with control.Chauhan 2005
Male rats fed chow enriched with 10% N. cataria leaves for 4 hours showed slight improvement in sexual behavior and performance, based on a decreased number of mounts before ejaculation and an increase in apomorphine-induced penile erection frequency. The potentiation of the penile erection induced by apomorphine suggests possible dopaminergic activity of N. cataria active principles.Bernardi 2011 Clinical data are lacking.
There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of catnip. A 15% lotion of the essential oil has been used as an insect repellant.Spero 2008
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Adverse effects (eg, emmenagogue and abortifacient effects) have been documented.Ernst 2002
Rabbits were administered catnip N. cataria (CNC) charcoal orally in combination with Rhizoma coptidis. CNC enhanced the bioavailability of berberine, an alkaloid of Rhizoma coptidis, and prolonged the release of berberine. The bioavailability of the alkaloids coptisine, palmatine, and epiberberine was decreased. Additionally, CNC may decrease the concentration of epiberberine in plasma. The varied effects on different alkaloids may be due to the presence of CNC micropowder, which may adsorb the alkaloids, resulting in prolonged retention in the small intestine.He 2016
Conjunctival irritation was observed in rabbits 1 hour after treatment with 0.1 mL of catnip oil on the upper and lower lids, but had resolved within 24 hours. Rabbits were also exposed to 0.5 mL of undiluted catnip oil and evaluated for 14 days. Erythema developed on days 3 to 4 in all rabbits and did not improve during the evaluation period.Zhu 2009 Excessive ingestion may result in headache and malaise. Data are limited.
The intraperitoneal median lethal dose for catnip oil is 1,300 mg/kg.Duke 2002 Severe physical effects after catnip abuse do not usually occur; however, reports exist of limited symptoms, generally consisting of headache and malaise. Large amounts of tea may induce emesis. One study tested acute oral, dermal, and inhalational toxicities, as well as evaluated primary skin, eye, and dermal sensitization in mice, rats, and rabbits. A single dose of catnip oil was given via oral gavage at 1,000 to 10,000 mg/kg daily for 14 days. With the exception of one death, no toxicities occurred at doses of 1,000 to 2,150 mg/kg. Doses more than 4,640 mg/kg caused 100% mortality. No dermal, inhalational, or ocular toxicities were noted after 14 days of observation in the following: topical study in which a single high-dose limit of 5,000 mg/kg was applied to clipped backs of rats, acute inhalation study in which mice were exposed for 2 hours in a chamber, or an eye irritation study in rabbits treated with 0.1 mL of catnip oil applied to the upper and lower lids.Zhu 2009
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