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.