Primarily known as an herb loved by cats, catnip can also be made into an essential oil. The oil is not commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy. Also, using catnip essential oil (Nepeta cataria) with cats is generally not recommended because the oil can be too strong.
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, according to Aromatherapy for Dummies.
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. This essential oil poses a higher risk of causing irritation and sensitization when used in the bath. Avoid using the oil in the bath, even diluted, according to AromaWeb.
Source: Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed.
To relieve stress and anxiety or to help with sleep, diffuse a few drops of catnip.
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
Blend ingredients. Apply to skin as needed. Avoid sensitive areas.
Source: Kelly Holland-Azzaro et.al. "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.
Aromatics International notes catnip can help relieve muscle cramps and other spasms. A 2009 study, "Chemical composition and mechanisms underlying the spasmolytic and bronchodilatory properties of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria L.," concluded data indicate that catnip oil has spasm and muscle-relaxing effects.
To relief cramps/spasms, including possibly 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).
Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons