Soporific Scentsuality

The sweet and soporific smell of catmint. There is nothing more relaxing than walking past my garden and sticking my face in the warm and fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves and taking a big, deep breath of that stuffy, somnolent scent indulged in by cats everywhere. I would like to offer thanks to my ancestors for having the foresight to bring us this wonderful garden gem which, like a lot of imposed imports, has broken the bonds of the backyard and is now found in back ally-ways, waste lands and ditches. A friend to the bees and the hummingbirds, it has stood fast as a solid herbal staple in my garden for decades. My children invariably look for it when they visit and automatically grab a chunk and chew on the pungent aromatically bitter leaves. A testament to their memory of catnip tea during times of stress or sickness. Mixed with elderflower, catnip often soothed the bodies and souls of my children from the time they were babies. It was always an ingredient in all of the elixers, ointments, teas and syrups I administered.

We generally think of catnip as an entertainment additive to our cat’s toys to keep ourselves amused. Nepetalactone is the ingredient that makes cats hallucinogenically happy but in humans it gives a calming effect and also helps to ease pain due to the anti-inflammatory action of the iridoids. It is also very relaxing for the digestive system and I have found it’s use most beneficial for issues with the digestive system such as IBS, colic, and as a digestive after too much Thanksgiving turkey. Mixed with rosemary and lavender it is an outstanding alternative to ‘hair of the dog’ or other hangover remedies. For those of us who are tincture tinkerers an application of a catnip tincture on arthritic joints or rheumatic points is very soothing and the scent helps one to relax before dozing off. For the ointment aficionados amongst us, nepeta ointment is a wonderful alternative to the lidocaine based ointments on the market. A rinse with some diluted witch hazel and then applying the ointment has always been an effective treatment especially in this ‘ohhh-so-sensitive’ area. I also used it in hair rinses for the kids when they went to school to repel the dreaded lice epidemics. The only time my children ever had lice was when catnip was not in my garden. Coincidence? I think not! It saw the crock pot during cough medicine making as well, as it soothes the bronchii and as a diaphoretic helped to combat those childhood fevers.

Organic gardeners like myself love having our catnip around for it’s geraniol and citronellol compounds. Distinctly repellent to insects, catnip between the rows can repel the flea beetles and attract may other pollinating insects and hummingbirds. I often put a few seeds in amongst the lettuce and greens. It is a nice accent in salad and as an antiflatulant, it can help to decrease any noisy and embarrassing evidence of your vegan diet.

Traditionally it has been used as an ingredient for those who enjoy an herbal smoke and at one time was popular with youth as an alternative to marijuana. This has since been found to be an erroneous belief. Were it true, it would far more popular than it is. I do, however, use it in my homemade smudge. It is a lovely additive that gives a nice pungent, heady aroma to cedar and spruce adding a hint of an herby air.

In the Irish Herbal (1735), K’Eogh wrote “It provokes urination and menstruation; it expels the stillborn child; it opens obstructions of the lungs and the womb, and it is good for internal bruises and shortness of breath. Drunk with salt and honey, it expels worms from the body.” So, it is best if expectant mothers avoid large doses of the herb.

For the novice gardeners, be aware that catnip is a mint and will spread itself wherever it wants so it needs to be tended to accordingly. Harvest just before or as it flowers but please always leave a few blooms for the bees. Should your catnip come up in the spring in unwanted places, it is easy to transplant to window wells and doorsteps to keep the six and eight-leggers in the garden where they are needed most.

So, the next time your cat is acting crazy over catnip, think twice. He might not be that crazy after all.

Speak Your Mind