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What Is Catnip?

By Jane Harmon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Catnip is an herb that is, as its name suggests, very attractive to cats. It is a member of the mint family, and it's leaves and stems are fuzzy, like sage.

Easy to cultivate, catnip will spread rapidly, like any mint. If the leaves are crushed or bruised, an aromatic volatile oil will be released, and it will quickly attract any cat in the vicinity, who will eat the bruised plant. People who grow this herb in the garden may need to protect it with wire mesh.

Catnip has long been a specific remedy for colds, bronchitis and insomnia. An infusion of the herb can be prepared by steeping the leaves in water that has been boiled. The active ingredients of catnip are quickly dissipated, so the leaves should not be boiled in the water, and the pot should be covered to retain the steam. Catnip has an antispasmodic effect, and is therefore useful against diarrhea, cramps and colic. It is mild enough to give to children.

This herb can also be added to salads as a savory green. If it is grown to be dried for home use, the top of the plant should be collected when it is in full flower, and it can be dried by hanging it in bunches, out of the reach of any household cats. Certain properties in catnip have been shown to be effective at repelling insects, another reason why people might like to have some growing in the garden. There is even recent research that shows that wood treated with the essential oil will not be bothered by termites, although the effects are so far short lived, due to the volatile nature of the oil.

If purchasing dried catnip, consumers will want to store it in the refrigerator or even the freezer if they have cats. Cats can smell it through the stoutest of plastic, and have been known to climb onto shelves, open cabinets and even open drawers to get to it. They can be given a bit of it in the form of a few spoonfuls in the end of an old sock that has been tied closed. The cats will have the sock in shreds in no time, and it can be quite hilarious to watch.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is catnip and why does it affect cats?

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb from the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is believed to mimic feline pheromones, triggering a range of behaviors in cats, such as rolling, pawing, and purring. This response is hereditary, and not all cats are affected; about 50-70% of cats are sensitive to catnip.

Can catnip be harmful to my cat?

No, catnip is not harmful to cats and is considered safe when used in moderation. Cats self-regulate their exposure to catnip, typically losing interest after about 10-15 minutes. However, excessive consumption can cause mild digestive upset. It's advisable to offer catnip sparingly to prevent habituation and maintain its novelty and effectiveness.

How can I use catnip for my cat?

Catnip can be used in various ways to stimulate your cat's play and exercise routines. You can sprinkle dried catnip on scratching posts or toys, use sprays on bedding, or offer fresh catnip plants. It's also available in stuffed toys designed to withstand vigorous play. Always introduce catnip gradually to see how your cat responds.

Does catnip work on all cats?

No, catnip does not affect all cats. Sensitivity to catnip is hereditary, and an estimated 30-50% of cats do not respond to it at all. The reaction to catnip is also age-related; kittens under six months and older cats are less likely to show a noticeable response to the herb.

Is catnip only for domestic cats, or do big cats react to it as well?

Catnip can affect big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards, not just domestic cats. Big cats may exhibit similar behaviors to house cats when exposed to catnip, such as sniffing, licking, and rolling around. However, the intensity of the reaction can vary widely among individual animals and species.

Can humans use catnip for any purpose?

Yes, humans have used catnip for centuries for various purposes. It has been employed in traditional medicine as a mild sedative or to soothe digestive issues. Catnip can also be brewed as a tea for these purposes. Additionally, the plant is sometimes used in gardens for its ability to repel certain insects, thanks to its nepetalactone content.

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Discussion Comments

By disciples — On Dec 18, 2012

Where can I buy organic catnip?

I try to feed my cat an entirely organic diet, and I want her catnip to be the same.

I have looked in a lot of the pet stores around here but never been able to find any.

By whiteplane — On Dec 17, 2012

You can use catnip oil as a tool to train cats. If you want to encourage them to go to something, a particular chair or a new toy, you can put a tiny dab of catnip oil on it. But be sure not to use too much. The goal is not for the cat to feel the effects of the catnip, just to encourage a certain behavior.

By tigers88 — On Dec 17, 2012

I remember one summer my mom grew catnip in a pot in out backyard. Our cat Sally spent the entire summer laying lazily next to that pot. Cats are already pretty lazy, but Sally did little more than eat and sleep and roll around idly.

By anon249588 — On Feb 21, 2012

How does catnip affect dogs? If they get a hold of a cat's catnip toy, could the catnip affect their stomach?

By anon156840 — On Feb 28, 2011

Where do i get catnip? Can i buy it off Sainsbury etc e.g. the seed they sell for the herbs/flowers, etc.?

By anon118358 — On Oct 14, 2010

It seems from the foregoing that catnip, with respect to humans, has an MJ similar mental, emotional and 'feeling good' characteristic. The small amount tested in my laboratory resulted in a conclusion that the nip was a positive contribution to human serenity.

By anon102120 — On Aug 06, 2010

Will my cat get hooked on catnip and have a $200 a week habit where she has to go sell herself to any stray cat that comes along just to support her habit?

By anon101751 — On Aug 05, 2010

if you put just a little in your cat's food, it is also good for their digestive system.

By anon97309 — On Jul 19, 2010

my cat's mad without catnip.

By anon95230 — On Jul 11, 2010

it's a chemical reaction in their brain that happens from them smelling it. it gives them a burst of energy and makes them happy for a few minutes but then they can grow acclimated to it. but if they are away from it for a couple of hours then they will have the reaction again. also it's hereditary for cats to have the reaction and not all cats have it. but even big cats like tigers can have a reaction to catnip. but it doesn't make them high.

By anon89788 — On Jun 12, 2010

my cat loves this crap.

By anon86044 — On May 23, 2010

Commenter #3, it makes your cat happy and less bored. As someone who owns a very active cat, let me tell you: Having anything he enjoys doing around is helpful. Also, glass jars work to store it as well. He knows it's there, because he sees us get it out of there, but he can't get it.

By anon68048 — On Feb 28, 2010

No catnip will not make your cat "sick" or "high." It would not be more harmful than a person eating a mint leaf.

By anon64192 — On Feb 05, 2010

what does catnip do to cats?

By anon60037 — On Jan 11, 2010

no it will not make cats sick if they eat catnip.

By anon55289 — On Dec 06, 2009

On catnip, my cat saw God!

By anon52940 — On Nov 17, 2009

What is it for? Why do i want my cat to get "high" with this?

By anon45845 — On Sep 21, 2009

No, it won't make him sick.

By anon42563 — On Aug 22, 2009

will it make my cat sick if he eats it?

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