Often mistaken for peppermint, catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a skunky, fuzzy, pungent member of the mint family. It is a great ally to know when you are wandering in the woods being swarmed by mosquitoes, when you can't sleep or are having an anxious day, or when you are trying to settle a colicky baby.
I have relied on this plant countless times by rubbing the fragrant leaves onto my skin while in the woods desperate for relief from the bugs feeding off of me. Easy to identify by its smell and unmistakable mint family qualities, once you familiarize yourself with it you won’t forget it. Look for the square stem and opposite leaves on the stalk to indicate this member of the mint family.
Said by many to be significantly more effective than DEET, those who have experimented with natural bug repellents may be doubtful, but I swear by this herb. Today we are taking things one step further and attempting to capture the scent and repellent qualities in oil to be applied for longer lasting action.
We harvested the top two thirds of the herb at the intersection of the leaves (ensuring that it will continue to grow throughout the season), and coarsely chopped the leaves and stem.
We covered the leaves in olive oil and decided to speed up the infusion process by gently heating them in a small pot on our wood stove, stirring constantly, to try to draw out the potent insect repellent properties from the herb.
After heating for a little while on the stove, we poured the mixture into a small mason jar, we added some more fresh leaves and more oil to make it even more potent, and placed the jar to infuse in the sun for a week.
After a week, we strained the mixture through cheesecloth - squeezing out every last drop - and stored the oil in a dark glass container. We applied the catnip oil to our arms and legs and found that it successfully repelled black flies and mosquitoes - they would come near but wouldn't actually land or bite. We also discovered that the infusion makes an excellent oil for soothing and calming sunburn, achy muscles and bug bites.
- catnip, coarsely chopped
- cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover your herbs)
- place coarsely chopped catnip in a jar
- pour olive oil just enough to cover the leaves
- pour the catnip mixture in a jar, seal, and place in a sunny spot. Allow mixture to infuse for six weeks or one week if you intend on speeding up the process by heating the oil on the stove.
- optional: gently heat the oil/catnip mixture for a little while in a small pot on your stove, stir constantly. You could also use a double boiler or crockpot. Allow the oil to get warm, but never hot.
- strain the catnip from the oil using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
- apply to expose skin as an insect repellent next time you are in the woods!