Catnip, or as it’s known by feline scientists, “neapata cataria” is an herb that is a member of the mint family.
It’s been used for 1000’s of years by both humans and cats. Remarkable in its effect on almost all cats, it can give them stimulating energy and relax them at the same time. The plan is common to both Europe and Asia, and is also found in North America after being introduced many years ago. It is not native to North America.
The appeal to cats all over the world appears to come from a chemical called “nepetalactone” which is contained in the stem and leaves of the plant. You can smell this when the plant is alive and fresh, but cats seem to like more when it has been dried out. This is why it’s more common to see it for sale this way instead of the live plant.
It’s been suggested that the active chemical in Catnip does for our feline friends what marijuana does to some people. You may have noticed that after your cat gets ahold of some of this plant, they seem to “space off” for about ten minutes or so, rub and roll themselves all over the plant and then appear to get very relaxed. All cat species do this, including lions! It’s interesting to note that not all cats will have this reaction, as it’s genetic. Surprisingly, kittens do not like Catnip! Give a kitten some, and they’ll be repelled by it. If your cat has the genetics that will make them responsive to it, you’ll know when they’re about six months old.
Feline scientists do not know exactly how or why the chemical substance in catnip affects cats. They say that it does not create any lasting damage, and that the effects one sees your cat experience are temporary. Did you know that there are other plants that have a similar effect? Two of the most well known are Valerian and Honeysuckle.
While cat owners might have reservations about letting their furry friends have loose catnip, they will be more interested in toys and cloth bags stuffed with catnip. It’s speculated that doing this makes the toy more “alive” to the cat. The other advantage is that a toy or bag can be refilled with fresh catnip from time to time. Like any other herb, over time, it will lose the essential oils that give its distinct smell. To prolong the life of the toys and catnip, you may want to keep them stored in an airtight bag.
Did you know that there are many types of catnip? And that your cat might prefer one over the other? What we think of as catnip is also known as “common catnip”. This is the type that is most loved by felines. The leaves are heart shaped, and have a scalloped edge. It also has tall spikes and white flowers. It can grow to be over 36? in height.
Catnip – Camphor – instead of the typical catnip smell, this one smells more acidic, and tends to be the least liked by cats. It looks very much like the common variety, except that it will have purple dots on the flowers and will only reach a height of about 18 inches.
Greek catnip – appears very pale green, with pink flowers. It grows smaller than the other varieties.
Lemon catnip – this catnip looks a lot like the common variety, and there are often purple spots on the flowers, but not all of the time. Like it’s name, no surprise, it smells like lightly of lemon. It’s not a favorite of cats, but humans love to make tea with it! Catmint – this is the smallest of the family, and will only grow to be about 15 inches in height. It has purple flowers. It’s rare to find a cat that will enjoy it as much as the common catnip. However, it does make a great decorative plant and many people put it in their garden as a filler. If you have questions, just ask us!