Catnip Helps People Sleep, Fight Colds

catmint essential oil in beautiful bottle on table

Catnip is an herb that’s not just for cats any longer. In fact, it has a long history of use in folk medicine and some interesting health properties for humans. Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, catnip was brought to the U.S. by early settlers. In traditional medicine, it is used for its sedative and calming properties. It is also widely studied for use as an insect repellant or insecticide. It is often found in tea or as a tincture. Though it drives cats crazy, there are some interesting potential uses as well as warnings and considerations for its use in humans.

Catnip has been used medicinally to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Colds, flu, bronchitis, headaches and fevers
  • Upset stomach, indigestion and gas/bloating
  • Anxiety

Flowering Catnip Plant in BasketThe best research for use of catnip in humans is actually as a mosquito repellant. Applying a small amount of catnip oil has proven effective at repelling yellow fever mosquitos, though using catnip isn’t as effective as commercial insect repellant products.

When used medicinally, a 2-4mL tincture has been taken up to three times daily. Studies have found that catnip has many potential benefits including antibacterial and antiviral effects and immune support which could be why it has been used to aid in cold, flu and fever in traditional medicine. It has also exhibited antifungal effects and may even have some promise for the protection against or treatment of cancers because it induces “apoptosis” or programmed cell-death of irregular cells in the body. It has also shown anti-cancer effects in the lab setting on a variety of cancer cells including ovarian, cervical, colon and breast cancers.

green tea in beautiful cup

Side Effects

The potential side effects of catnip depend on its form and dose. For example, in tea form, significant adverse side effects have been reported when consumed by the cup-full. Catnip can also be inhaled when smoked like tobacco and some reports indicate a euphoric high while others deny this is possible. There are some negative reports of adverse effects in children and it is not safe for use in pregnant women as it may cause uterine contractions. There is potential for psychoactive properties, though it’s unproven at this time. Catnip likely depresses the central nervous system so use caution with medications or supplements that have the same effects.

Bonus: how does catnip work on cats? Nepetalactone, one of the volatile oils in catnip excited sensory neurons when inhaled which excite the pituitary gland and create a sexual response. Basically, catnip acts as an artificial cat pheromone triggering them to rub, roll and play when exposed to the scent of this herb.
Natural Medicines Database. Panax Ginseng.,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=831. Updated 2/12/2019. Accessed 2/20/19.Have you used catnip for human health – not just for cats? Let us know in the comments if you have experimented it for medicinal use!


Bol S, Caspers J, Buckingham L, Anderson-Shelton GD, Ridgway C, Buffington CT, Schulz S, Bunnik EM. Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC veterinary research. 2017;13(1):70.

Süntar I, Nabavi SM, Barreca D, Fischer N, Efferth T. Pharmacological and chemical features of Nepeta L. genus: Its importance as a therapeutic agent. Phytotherapy research. 2018;32(2):185-98.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group  
What Do FoodTrients Do?
Ai Anti- inflammatories

Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.

Ao Anti- oxidant

Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.

IB Immunity Boosters

Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.

MB Mind

Improves mood, memory, and focus.

F Disease Prevention

Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.