Catnip: What You Need to Know About the Catnip Plant

Catnip Genus: Nepeta
Catnip Family: Lamiaceae
Botanical name: Nepeta catara

What is catnip?

From the mint family, Catnip is a perennial herb. It's square, hairy stalk and typically geen/grey coloured heart shaped leaves with scalloped edges is quite distinctive. Catnip flowers grow in spikes, reaching about 1/2 inch in length. It is best known for its reputation which is that Catnip gets cats high.

There are over  250 species of flowering plants in the Catnip plant family. These Cantip plants include:

Nepeta cataria (catnip or true catnip): This Catnip has white flowers and grows up to 3 feet. Nepeta Cataria is the Catnip variety most cats enjoy.

Nepeta camphorata (camphor catnip): This Catnip has white flowers with purple dot and grows about half the size to 18 inches  with a camphor scent.

Nepeta parnassica (Greek catnip): White, pale pink flowers, also grows up to 18 inches.

Nepeta cataria citriodora (Lemon catnip): White flowers, spotted with purple, grows up to 3 feet. The leaves have a lemony scent.

Nepeta mussinii (Persian cat mint): Purple flowers. This plant has smallish, grey/green leaves. It grows up to 15 inches high.

catnip was originally native to Europe and Asia, but was introduced to  North America and Canada in the 1600s. The name Nepeta  comes from the town of Nepete in Italy, and Cataria comes from the Latin word for cat.

Nepeta cataria  has many other names including cataria, catmint, catnep, catrup, cat's healall, cat's-play, true catnip, cat's wort, catswort, catwort, chi hsueh tsao, field balm, Garden Nep, Herba Cataria, Herba Catti, Nebada, Nep.

How Does Catnip Effect Cats?

 An essential oil called nepetalactone is the active ingredient that causes a high in cats. The Catnip active ingredient is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. Catnip also contains acetic acid, alpha and beta-nepetalactone, citral, nepetalactone, geraniol, dipentene, citronellol, nerol, butyric acid, valeric acid and tannins.

Nepetalactone causes a hallucinogenic effect in cats. The affect of Catnip has been compared to  LSD and more often marijuana (and some people claim that smoking catnip induces a high like that of marijuana .Don't try this at home!).  Some have suggested that Catnip is an aphrodisiac however veterinarians consider this unlikely. More likely the cat is reacting to similar feel-good pheromones released during sexual courtship/activity.

Are all Cats affected by Catnip?

About half of all cats are affected by catnip. Some more than others. Kittens younger than eight weeks old don't seem to enjoy its effect; in fact, they show an aversion to it. The response to catnip is mediated through the olfactory system. When nepetalactone enters the cat's nasal passages, it binds to olfactory receptors located at the olfactory epithelium. This stimulates sensory neurons, which trigger neurons in the olfactory bulb to send signals to the brain. The response to catnip is inherited as an autosomal dominant gene, which means the gene only needs to be passed on from one parent.

How do Cats Behave After Eating Catnip?

Many cats respond to cantip with sniffing, chewing, licking, head shaking, and chin, cheek, and body rubbing. Additional responses may include stretching, drooling, jumping, licking, aggression, and hyperactivity.

How do Cats Enjoy Catnip?

It is believed that cats eat catnip to bruise the catnip, thereby releasing more of the nepetalactone which they injest nasally. The high produced will usually last between five and ten minutes.

Can Catnip Hurt My Cat?

Catnip is not harmful to your cat. They won't overdose on it. Most cats know when they've had enough and will refuse any further offers.

How do I Give Catnip to My Cat?

There are a number of ways to give catnip to your cat.

You can grow it in a pot and keep it near a window or in their cat enclosure. They can have a nibble as they see fit.

You can dry it out and sprinkle some on the floor for them.

You can buy toys with catnip in them. Most pet shops sell toy mice filled with catnip.

How much catnip should I give my cat?

If you are giving him dry catnip, a couple of small pinches will do.

How do I Grow Catnip?

Catnip is fairly easy to grow. You can purchase the catnip plant from your local garden centre. You can also grow catnip from seed, but the germination rate can be quite low. Catnip likes light, sandy soil and grows best in full sun. Make sure you keep it well watered until it has become established.

As the plant is growing, pinch out the top growth tips to promote leaves. If you are planting it in a garden your cat has access to, make sure there is plenty of adjacent space around the plant so that other plants won’t be damaged if your cat rolls in it. If you have catnip in a pot for an indoor cat, have several pots growing outdoors so that you can rotate plants regularly.

Does catnip work on humans?

Catnip doesn't induce a high in humans like it can in cats. If anything it tends to have a sedative effect, instead. As mentioned above, some claim it induces a high similar to marijuana when smoked.

Pregnant women should avoid catnip.