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What is Catnip Oil?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated: Feb 18, 2024

Catnip oil is a product derived from catnip, Nepeta cataria, through steam distillation. One of the more common applications of oil of this type is to function as an herbal insect repellent. Along with the ability to repel mosquitoes, it is also used as a home remedy for a number of minor ailments. The oil is usually available in health food shops and other venues that sell herbal products.

The origin of catnip oil is unknown, although this mint plant has been grown in parts of Europe for centuries. By the time that this plant was introduced to what is now the United States during the 18th century, its oil was already in common use. Catnip leaves can be crushed to release the oil and allow the liquid to be collected for use.

Pest control is easily the most immediately recognized use of catnip oil. By applying a thin coating to the skin, the oil will effectively repel flies and mosquitoes. There is some anecdotal evidence that the essential oils found in catnip help to mask the scent emanating from the skin that attracts the attention of the pests and deters them from approaching the individual.

Along with repelling unwanted airborne pests, this oil is used in folk medicine to help relieve the discomfort of several common ailments. The leaves and oil can be brewed as a tea to alleviate cramping, while rubbing the oil on the forehead is sometimes employed as a means of easing the pain of a headache. Poultices including oil and leaves are also sometimes used to help with chest congestion during a bout with the common cold. A cloth soaked with catnip oil is said to help slow and even reverse fever when wrapped around the forehead and cheeks.

This oil is also used in some places as a way to tenderize cuts of meat, especially wild game. Applying the oil to the surface of the meat and either working it into ground meat or using a tenderizing mallet to pound it into the body of the meat helps to break down touch cartilage and make it easier to chew.

Unlike some other naturally occurring oils, catnip oil is somewhat expensive. Many uses require only a minute amount in order to produce the desired result, however. Even 1 ounce (29.5 ml) of oil may be enough to use for several purposes over the course of a year.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jul 16, 2013

@anamur-- Dry organic catnip is used in cat toys but the oil is not safe for pets. Essential oils are very strong and it can be very dangerous to put on pets or to let them consume it. They could die from it!

By serenesurface — On Jul 15, 2013

@SarahGen-- When I asked for a natural insect repellent at the health store, the lady who worked there showed me catnip essential oil. I paid a lot of money for a very small bottle and I was shocked when I tried it at home. It smells bad! I don't know how people walk around wearing this oil.

I have not used it at all and I feel like I wasted my money. If I had a cat maybe it would be of use.

By SarahGen — On Jul 15, 2013

I used catnip oil as an insect repellent when I visited Singapore. I've never been a fan of chemical products to repel insects because they are toxic and dangerous for health. Catnip oil worked perfect, I was not bitten at all when I was wearing it. I heard that a lot of people who visit Singapore end up getting dengue fever from mosquitoes. I'm so glad that I took catnip oil with me.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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