Synonyms: Other names: catmint Nomenclature: cataria = of cats Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant
General: erect perennial from taproot, commonly several-stemmed, branched upward, 30-100 cm tall, gray-hairy throughout, especially on the lower surfaces of the leaves, with soft, loosely spreading, not very long hairs.
Leaves: basal lacking, stem leaves opposite, scarcely reduced upward, stalked, with coarsely sharp- to blunt-toothed blades, triangular-ovate, cordate at base, mostly 2.5-7 cm long and 1.5-5 cm wide.
Flowers: whitish, commonly dotted with purple, 10-15 mm long, short-hairy outside like the calyx, the upper lip 2-lobed, the broad central lobe of the lower lip with small teeth. Many flowers in short, dense, spikelike clusters mostly 2-8 cm long and 1.5-2.5 cm wide at the ends of the branches. Calyx 5-6 mm long, with 15 raised nerves, the slender, sharp-pointed teeth shorter than the tube, almost equal in length.
Roadsides, stream banks, and disturbed areas, less often in relatively undisturbed habitats, in w., c. and se. parts of MT. Native of Eurasia, now widely naturalized in America.
Young leaves of catnip are edible raw. A mint-like flavor, they make an aromatic flavoring in salads. Older leaves are used as a flavoring in cooked foods. They can be used fresh or dried to make an aromatic herb tea. The tea should be infused in a closed container in order to preserve the essential oils, boiling is said to spoil it.
Catmint has a long history of use as a household herbal remedy, being employed especially in treating disorders of the digestive system and, as it stimulates sweating, it is useful in reducing fevers. The herbs pleasant taste and gentle action makes it suitable for treating colds, flu and fevers in children. It is more effective when used in conjunction with elder flower (Sambucus nigra). The leaves and flowering tops are strongly antispasmodic, and have agents that prevent or relieve cough, cause tissue to contract, relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, induce sweating, reduce fever, give strength and tone to the stomach, to a slight extent promote or assist the flow of menstrual fluid, and are slightly stimulant, sedative and tonic. The flowering stems are harvested in August when the plant is in full flower, they are dried and stored for use as required. A tea produces free perspiration, it is considered to be beneficial in the treatment of fevers and colds. It is also very useful in the treatment of restlessness and nervousness, being very useful as a mild calming of nerves for children. A tea made from the leaves can also be used. The tea is also applied externally to bruises, especially black eyes.
The plant is said to deter insects such as ants and flea beetles as well as rats and mice. (The idea behind it being a rat repellent is probably based on the plants attraction to cats. A strong infusion can be used to repel fleas from carpets or the fur of animals. An extract from the leaves (called nepetalactone) has herbicidal and insect repellent properties. The freshly harvested flowering tops contain 0.3 - 1% essential oil by distillation. It is mainly used for medicinal purposes. The dried leaves retain their fragrance and can be used in pot-pourri.
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