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Guide To Catnip Essential Oil and Its Benefits and Uses

Primarily known as an herb loved by cats, catnip can also be made into an essential oil. The oil is not common in aromatherapy. Generally, do not use catnip essential oil (Nepeta cataria) with cats because it is too strong for them.

The herb's active ingredient that affects cats is nepetalactone. Although the scent energizes most cats, it relaxes humans because of the difference between human brains and cat brains.

A Guide To Catnip Essential Oil and Its Benefits and Uses in Aromatherapy (with photo of the catnip herb)

Basic Catnip Facts

Plant family: ‎Lamiaceae

Production: Steam distilled from the leaves and flowers/buds of the plant, which is a perennial herb that grows 20 to 40 inches tall and wide.

Aroma: Herbaceous with a subdued mint aroma.

Perfume/Aromatic note: Middle

Is catnip safe to use during pregnancy? No.

Is catnip essential oil safe for children? Yes, properly diluted.

Cautions: Low risk of skin sensitization. Using this essential oil in the bath presents a higher risk of causing irritation and sensitization.

Main components:

  • nepetalactone isomers  12.7–84%
  • nepetalic acid              1.2–43%
  • dihydronepetalactone     0–25%
  • beta-caryophyllene        6.2–24.6%
  • caryophyllene oxide       14.3–19.4%

Source: Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed.

Catnip Essential Oil Benefits and Uses

Penny Price Aromatherapy: Catnip oil helps relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression; support the digestive system; and reduce menstrual pain.

For menstrual pain relief:

  • 1/3 cup unscented cream
  • 2.5 teaspoon aloe vera gel
  • 30 drops catnip essential oil
  • 20 drops roman chamomile essential oil
  • 10 drops cornmint essential oil

Use this blend during the day as needed on the abdomen and small of the back.

To relieve cramps/spasms, including menstrual discomfort, mix a drop or two of catnip oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil and gently massage your lower abdomen. Traditionally, catnip tea has been recommended for menstrual pain (and for sleep).

To relieve stress and anxiety or to help with sleep, diffuse a few drops of catnip. 

Diffuser Sleep Blend

  • 2 drops catnip essential oil
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil
  • 4 drops sandalwood essential oil

Sleep-Inducing Bath Salts

  • 1/2 cup Pink Himalayan salt or any other fine-grain salt
  • 1 tablespoon liquid castile soap
  • 3 drops catnip essential oil
  • 2 drops Roman chamomile essential oil

Add ingredients to a small bowl and then stir to blend well. Swirl the salts into your bath.

Adapted from Aromahead Newsletter.

Insect Repellent

Catnip deters pests and insects, according to The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. One catnip study found the essential oil repels mosquitoes ten times more effectively than DEET. A 2019 catnip study also found catnip effective as an insect repellent.

One way to use the essential oil to repel insects is to add a few drops to a spray bottle with water or witch hazel. Spray the blend on your arms and legs.

Bug Repellent Blend

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) aloe vera gel
  • 12 drops catnip essential oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops geranium essential oil
  • 20 drops Eucalyptus citiriodora essential oil

Blend ingredients. Apply to skin as needed. Avoid sensitive areas.

Source: Kelly Holland-Azzaro "Natural Bug Repellent and Bug Bite Relief Blends." NAHA Aromatherapy Journal, Summer 2013.2, pg. 59.

To be effective as an insect repellent, catnip oil needs to have a high amount of nepetalactone isomers, according to Aromatics International. So, it's important you know the composition of the oil you buy.

Muscle Spasms and Pain

Aromatics International notes catnip can help relieve muscle cramps and other spasms.

Muscle Care Oil

  • 2 tablespoons jojoba oil
  • 8 drops catnip oil
  • 5 drops copaiba essential oil
  • 5 drops black pepper essential oil

Combine the jojoba and essential oils in a one-ounce bottle. Shake gently. Use the massage oil on tight, achy muscles.

Shoulder Massage Oil

  • 2 tablespoons St. John’s wort infused olive oil
  • 8 drops catnip oil
  • 5 drops bergamot mint essential oil (Mentha citrata)
  • 2 drops corn mint essential oil (Mentha arvensis)
  • 3 drops peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita)

Make your blend in a 1-ounce (30 ml) bottle. Combine the ingredients and shake gently to blend them.

Source for the above two blends: Aromahead Newsletter

Other Uses of Catnip Essential Oil

Mixing Essential Oils for Magic: Use catnip for animal and elemental magic and to attract benevolent spirits. The oil supports dream and psychic work. You can use the essential oil to attract love, friendship, beauty, happiness, and peace into your life.

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Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons