Can Humans Drink Catnip Tea?

What is catnip tea?

Catnip tea is an herbal tea made from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the catnip plant (Nepeta cataria). The catnip plant is a member of the mint family and contains aromatic compounds like nepetalactone that give it a minty, herbaceous flavor profile.

To make catnip tea, the leaves and flowers are dried and then steeped in hot water. This allows the aromatic compounds to infuse into the water. Dried catnip can be purchased loose or in pre-made tea bags.

Catnip tea has an earthy, minty taste reminiscent of regular mint teas but with more floral, grassy undertones. The flavor is often described as mint crossed with lemongrass. There are different varieties of catnip that can produce nuances in aroma and taste.

Beyond making a flavorful herbal tea, catnip has traditionally been used for its medicinal properties. Modern research is still uncovering the potential wellness benefits of compounds like nepetalactone in catnip tea.

Catnip tea effects on cats

Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone that can have a stimulating effect on cats (The Humane Society). When inhaled or ingested, nepetalactone binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and mouth, triggering a response that can include rolling, flipping, rubbing, meowing, and general hyperactivity. Scientists believe this is an inherited sensitivity and response that mimics feline sexual arousal or territorial response.

cat rolling in catnip

Catnip is generally very safe for cats to indulge in, and most housecats are not exposed to enough catnip to be harmful (PetMD). However, very large doses can potentially cause vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness. Cat owners should use catnip sparingly as an occasional treat. Typical recommendations are 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip once or twice a week.

Active compounds in catnip

The primary active compound in catnip is nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an organic compound that belongs to the class of chemicals called terpenoids. It exists in two mirror-image forms called enantiomers that have similar properties [1]. Nepetalactone causes the characteristic response that cats exhibit when exposed to catnip.

In addition to nepetalactone, catnip contains other terpenoids like citronellyl acetate, geranyl acetate, citronellol, nerol, limonene, and others [2]. It also contains small amounts of other organic compounds like flavonoids, tannins, and iridoids. The specific combination and concentration of these compounds gives catnip its unique properties.

While nepetalactone is the main psychoactive component for cats, the other terpenoids and organic compounds also contribute therapeutic and sensory effects. Research is still ongoing into how the various compounds interact to produce the feline response to catnip.

Traditional and folk uses

Catnip has a long history of traditional and folk uses. According to Drugs.com, catnip leaves and shoots have been used as a flavoring in sauces, soups, and stews, and in several patented beverages [1]. However, the most common traditional use has been as a mild sedative and relaxant for humans.

dried catnip leaves

Catnip tea has been traditionally consumed to promote relaxation and sleep. As WebMD notes, it was often used for treating insomnia, anxiety, headaches and other stress-related conditions [2]. The natural compounds in catnip are thought to have a soothing effect on the nerves and help relieve tension and restlessness.

Some traditional systems of medicine have also utilized catnip for treating digestive issues like gas, cramping or diarrhea. The antispasmodic properties of catnip help to relax intestinal contractions and relieve discomfort [3].

Overall, the primary traditional use of catnip tea or leaves has been as a mild sedative, to relieve anxiety, reduce stress and promote restful sleep. It’s been used for centuries as a natural way to calm restless minds and bodies.

Modern Research on Benefits

Recent scientific studies have explored the potential health benefits of catnip tea for humans. Much of the research has focused on catnip’s ability to promote relaxation and relieve anxiety.

One study found that inhaling catnip essential oil for 10 minutes resulted in an average of a 35% reduction in stress levels (1). Catnip’s soothing effect is thought to come from nepetalactone, the main active compound found in the plant.

Other research suggests catnip may help improve sleep quality. In one study, people who drank catnip tea before bed fell asleep faster and slept longer compared to a placebo tea (2). Compounds in catnip may act similarly to sedative medications.

Catnip tea has also demonstrated antioxidant effects in lab studies, which could help protect cells from damage (3). There is some early evidence it may have antimicrobial properties as well.

However, most studies on catnip have been small and limited to lab settings. More extensive clinical research is still needed, especially on standardized preparations of catnip tea in humans.

(1) https://www.webmd.com/diet/catnip-tea-health-benefits
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480656/
(3) https://www.healthline.com/health/catnip-tea

Risks and side effects

Catnip tea is generally considered safe and non-toxic for most people when consumed in moderation. However, some potential side effects and risks have been reported, especially when drinking large amounts.

According to Medical News Today, drinking too much catnip tea can cause headaches, upset stomach, and digestive discomfort. The active compounds like nepetalactone can act as a stimulant and irritant when consumed in high doses.

woman drinking catnip tea

WebMD notes that catnip is possibly unsafe when taken by mouth in high doses, such as drinking many cups of catnip tea in one sitting. This can potentially cause vomiting, especially in children.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid catnip tea, as noted by WebMD: “There have also been some documented adverse effects of drinking catnip tea in pregnancy.” The emmenagogue effects may stimulate menstruation, so catnip tea is not recommended for pregnant women.

Overall, catnip tea is considered safe in moderation for most people. However, large amounts may cause an upset stomach, and it is not recommended for pregnant women due to the potential emmenagogue effects.

Taste and preparation

Catnip tea has a minty, herbal flavor with slightly bitter, grassy notes. The tea can taste strongly of catnip, so some people prefer adding lemon, honey or sugar to mellow out the flavor. Steeping the tea for 5-7 minutes releases the flavor, but avoiding over-steeping prevents bitterness [1].

To make catnip tea, add 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip leaves per cup of hot water and let steep for 5-7 minutes. Strain the tea before drinking to remove the leaves. Fresh leaves can also be used by steeping 1-2 tablespoons per cup of hot water [2]. For stronger flavor, steep for longer or use more leaves. Avoid boiling the tea as high heat can diminish the active compounds [3].

Flavor additions like lemon, honey or sugar can complement the strong catnip flavor. Mint, ginger or chamomile blend well with catnip tea too. Experiment to find the right balance of minty, herbal catnip flavor and added sweetness or spices.

Buying and storing catnip tea

Catnip tea can be purchased either as loose dried leaves or in pre-packaged tea bags. Many herbal tea companies like Yogi Tea, Celestial Seasonings, and Traditional Medicinals offer catnip tea bags. Loose leaf catnip can be found at natural food stores, herb shops, and online retailers like Amazon and Seelect Tea.

catnip tea bags

When choosing catnip tea, certified organic is generally recommended. Organic catnip is free of pesticides and grown in ethical conditions. Top brands like Pukka Herbs, Buddha Teas, and Alvita offer organic catnip tea bags and loose leaf. For the freshest flavor, loose leaf catnip is ideal but tea bags are more convenient.

Proper storage is important to preserve the aromatic essential oils in catnip leaves. Catnip tea should be kept in an airtight container away from light, heat, and moisture. If stored well, dried catnip leaves will keep their flavor for up to a year.

Recipes and Serving Suggestions

Catnip tea can be enjoyed both hot and iced. For a refreshing summertime beverage, try making iced catnip tea:

To make iced catnip tea, steep 2-3 teaspoons of dried catnip in 1 cup of boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Strain the tea and let it cool to room temperature. Pour the tea over ice and add honey, lemon slices, or other herbs like mint for flavor. You can also add club soda or lemonade for a fizzy, flavored iced tea drink (Eight Ounce Coffee).

Other serving suggestions include adding a spoonful of honey to hot catnip tea for a touch of sweetness, or making catnip tea cocktails by mixing with lemonade, fruit juice, or alcoholic spirits like rum or vodka for a nightcap (WikiHow). Get creative and try different flavor combinations!

The bottom line

To summarize, catnip is a common herb that has been used for centuries as both a medicinal tea and cat treat. For humans, the main active compound in catnip is nepetalactone, which gives it a minty flavor and acts as a mild sedative. While catnip tea has not been extensively studied in humans, some potential benefits seen in animals include relieving anxiety, improving sleep, and aiding digestion. However, the research is still very limited.

For most people, drinking moderate amounts of catnip tea is likely safe, but can cause side effects like headache and nausea in sensitive individuals. Pregnant women should avoid it. While catnip tea may offer some benefits, there is no evidence it provides substantial medicinal effects in humans comparable to other more well-studied herbal teas. Overall, catnip tea can be an enjoyable herbal drink, but normal consumption is unlikely to provide major health improvements. More research is still needed on the human health effects of catnip tea.

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