The leaves and flowering tops of Nepeta Cataria, Linné (Cataria vulgaris, Moench).
COMMON NAMES AND SYNONYMS: Catnip, Catmint, Catnep; Herba nepetae, Herba catariae.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 209.
Botanical Source and Description.—Catnip or catmint is a perennial herb, with an erect, square, hoary-tomentose, branching stem, 2 or 3 feet in height. The leaves are opposite, cordate, oblong, petiolate, coarsely crenate-serrate, and covered with a soft, hoary down, paler beneath. The flowers are many, white, or purplish, in whorled spikes, which are slightly pedunculated, the lower lip dotted with crimson. The calyx is dry, striate, tubular, obliquely 5-toothed. The corolla is naked and dilated in the throat, 2-lipped, twice the length of the calyx; upper lip rather concave, erect, notched, or 2-cleft; lower spreading, 3-cleft, middle lobe largest and crenate. The stamens are 4, ascending under the upper lip; anthers approximate in pairs, the cells divergent (G.—W.).
History.—Catnip is a very common, naturalized plant, growing about old buildings and fences, and on waste and cultivated lands, flowering from June to September. It is a native of Europe. The tops and leaves are medicinal; they have a strong, characteristic odor, not very grateful to many persons, and a peculiar, bitterish taste. Their virtues are imparted to boiling water by infusion. It is very much liked by cats, preventing, it is said, attacks of fits.
Catnip should be collected each year in June and July, when flowering, and the coarser stems and branches rejected. It deteriorates in value, hence the necessity of gathering it annually. A variety, Nepeta Cataria, Linné, var. citriodora, Becker, has the odor of lemon or balm.
Chemical Composition.—Its active constituents are an oxygenated essential oil, and tannic acid striking a green color with ferruginous salts. Mr. H. R. Gillespie, in 1889, detected in catnip both fixed and volatile oils, mucilage, sugar, dextrin, a crystallizable wax, and a bitter body, neither glucosidal nor alkaloidal in character, but having acid properties.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Catnip is diaphoretic and carminative in warm infusion; tonic when cold. It is also antispasmodic, emmenagogue, and diuretic. In warm infusion it is used in febrile diseases as a diaphoretic, and to promote the action of other diaphoretics, as well as to allay spasmodic action and produce sleep; it is also given as a carminative and antispasmodic in the flatulent colic of children; and as an emmenagogue or uterine tonic, it has proved decidedly beneficial in amenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea, and has likewise been successfully employed in nervous headache, hysteria, and nervous irritability. Ɣ The leaves are reputed beneficial in toothache, when masticated and applied to the decayed tooth. A warm infusion of saffron and catnip is a very popular and beneficial remedy in colds, febrile and exanthematous diseases to which infants and young children are subject. The infusion is very efficient in allaying the irritability and nervousness of dyspeptics. A fluid extract of catnip, valerian, and scullcap forms an excellent agent for the cure of nervous headache, restlessness, and many other nervous symptoms. Ɣ The expressed juice of the herb, given in doses of a tablespoonful 2 or 3 times a day, is decidedly a superior remedy in amenorrhoea, often restoring the menstrual secretion after other means have failed. Ɣ The leaves are frequently used in fomentation as a local application to painful and inflammatory affections. Of the dried leaves in powder, 2 drachms may be given for a dose in some liquid, as cold or warm water; the infusion (1 ounce of the recently dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water) may be drunk warm as freely as the stomach will permit. Specific nepeta cataria, 2 to 60 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Abdominal pain, with constant flexing in the thighs, writhing, and persistent crying; colic. A remedy for children.