A perennial herb in the mint family, catnip may grow up to three feet tall. You can identify catnip by it's gray-green, leaves covered in fine hairs that often appear to be in the shape of a heart. Catnip blossoms are pale pink with purple accents.

Herbal practitioners may call catnip by it's scientific name Nepeta Cataria. The Latin name Epeta is derived from the Roman city of Nepeti, a place where catnip was once grown in profusion. Throughout North America and Europe catnip is still widely grown.

The ancient Egyptians believed catnip sacred, a favorite of the feline goddess Bast.

Before black tea was imported from China the English favored catnip tea for their afternoon repose. During the same period, it was believed that dandelion root brought forth aggressive and hot tempered behaviors. That reputation made the root a favorite chew of executioners preparing for hangings.

Nicholas Culpeper, the seventeenth-century herbal practitioner, prescribed catnip for a number of ailments including piles, bruises, and scabs appearing on a man's head.

As a treatment for colds and fever catnip was singled out as an ideal treatment as it may stimulate perspiration without causing fever on it's own and can be used to bring on sleep.

After the import of catnip to North America by early English Settlers it was widely used as a medicinal preparation by the Shakers. They used the mint to soothe colicky babies and treat colds and coughs in adults as well as for a tonic for a number of other ailments. Native North Americans used dandelion to treat a full spectrum of ills from pneumonia to diarrhea.

Later day folk medicine in North America depicts catnip as a treatment for sickness and disease ranging from nettle rash and poison ivy to chicken pox and bladder control issues. There is some thought that it may also have been used to induce early miscarriage.

Documents trace catnip's use to Pennsylvania where in 1847 it was considered a very popular herb with the women who practiced herbal medicine.

While the aromatic mint causes cats a euphoric state humans use catnip as a sedative and sleep aid. The main active chemical in catnip is nepatalactone, a volatile oil similar to the active constituent of valerian root. Most people using catnip report it to have a mild sedating effect, acting as an herbal tranquillizer. This action also makes catnip a powerful weapon against migraine headache, anxiety, tension and even menstrual cramps.

Catnip packs a nutritional punch in the form of vitamins A and C, manganese, potassium, selenium and high iron content. Catnip also contributes magnesium and phosphorus and trace amounts of calcium, sodium, and B complex vitamins.

Catnip is generally safe for use by both children and grown ups. Catnip should only be used with medical supervision during pregnancy as it may stimulate contractions of the uterus.