Catnip is not just for cats. Nepeta cataria has many beneficial properties. While most of us know it for the “drug” we give to our cats to make them loopy for a while and act like a kitten again, it is of use in the garden, for insects, and even for people. It looks like a member of the mint family but has a square stem with green-grey leaves. The flowers can be purple or pink. Catnip is an attractant to butterflies and cats. Like my favorite lemon balm, it is also a mosquito and fly repellent in addition to cockroaches, and termites. The chemical terpenoid nepetalactone is the main component of the essential oil which is obtained through steam distillation. Have no fear, you do not need steam distillation equipment to harness the benefits. For fly and mosquito repellant on your person simply pick a few stems and leaves and rub on your skin. Enough pressure needs to be applied to release the oils in the plant. When done it should look slightly crushed and dark green. Research has shown that catnip also attract beneficial insects such as lacewings which eat aphids and mites. Catnip is drought tolerant, and can also respell certain insects such as aphids and squash bugs. Additional research has shown that the essential oil of catnip is ten times more effective repelling mosquitoes than DEET the active ingredient in most insect repellents. Be careful as catnip can be evasive and spread like mint. To keep it contained you can plant in pots or containers around your garden. It WILL attract your neighborhood cats. You can also harvest it and dry it. Either in a dehydrator, hang upside down in a cool dry place, or even hang outside in the sun. Once dry take the leaves and put in a sealed bag.
Catnip has a long history of being used as a digestive aid. It’s a natural sedative that also helps to ease digestion, colic and diarrhea. Dehydration caused by diarrhea, and high body temperatures caused by fevers can be life-threatening. A tea brewed from its leaves may help alleviate these symptoms. Catnip is also a mild sedative that naturally helps calm the nerves during stressful situations.