Nepeta cataria is the botanical name for the catnip plant. It is a perennial and a member of the mint family.
You'll be looking out your window and seeing literally hundreds of cats in your garden, rolling around and damaging all your other plants as well as completely flattening the catnip, and chewing on what is left of their leaves!
The catnip plant is not especially attractive to look at. Indeed, it looks reminiscent of a weed, which in fact it grows as in many parts of Europe, especially around the Mediterranean basin. Growing well in the USDA zones 3 - 10, the catnip plant is rapidly becoming an invasive weed in the US.
Catnip is a great plant to grow in the garden because it attracts bees which pollinate many fruit and flowers, while deterring harmful pests including the flea beetle.
Rats are also repelled by the catnip plant.
It is grown as a cat treat, mainly, although it does have other uses both in homoeopathic medicine and as an insecticide around the house.
Cats and Catnip
The catnip plant likes to be grown in full sun, although it can tolerate partial shade. It is drought resistant and grows well in areas that get little natural rainfall.
It is not an especially attractive plant, except to cats. Looking a little like the common nettle, it produces small flowers that are lavender blue in color.
Growing in clumps about 3' high, there is no scent from the catnip plant that humans can detect.
However, scientists have discovered they emit a substance called nepelactone which animals with their highly developed olfactory senses, can smell.
Nepetalactone can send cats into a frenzy of delight. Strangely enough, this doesn't happen with all cats - generally only about 70% of them show any reaction at all. Young cats under three months and elderly cats also tend to ignore the catnip plant.
To a cat that shows reaction to nepetalactone, expect up to 10 minutes of drooling, rolling about on the catnip, biting, scratching, purring or meowing before the effect suddenly wears off and the cat just casually turns tail and walks away, only to return perhaps two hours later where the whole show begins again.
Catnip Herb Uses
Catnip has traditionally been used as a homoeopathic remedy
- for coughs
- aids sleep, even in children
- helps relieve digestive upsets
- reduces itchy skin inflammation
- helps wind babies
- reduces fever by stimulating sweating
- reduces bruising
The leaves and flowers of the catnip nip plant can be chopped up and made into a tea infusion.
Catnip can be dried for later use.
Cut the whole plant down and hang up to dry on a washing line or similar in a cool, dry place.
When completely dry, chop into small pieces and store in a sealed container in a cool dark place.
Dried catnip can be made into catnip toys for your cat's future enjoyment.
Sew little squares or balls of material together and place some dried, pulverised catnip in the centre before sewing shut.
Dried catnip can to reconstituted with boiling water to make a tea when and where it is needed. Use a teaspoon dried catnip per cup of boiling water.
Do not reboil after adding the water or the nepetalactone oil will be lost.
In Britain, catnip tea was common before the trade routes opened with China.
By far the best use for dried catnip is to spread it around the edges of your floors to deter insects and cockroaches, especially in hot countries.
Catnip oil is made in laboratories where it is steam distilled from the plant.
Scientific testing suggests that nepetalactone could be 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling insects, including mosquitoes.
Catnip effects on Humans
While catnip drives cat wild and gets them high as kites, there is no evidence that it has the same effect on humans.
While it known that catnip induces sleep, and can in fact alter behaviour and mood, and reduce swelling, bruising, reduce fever and all the other things associated with it listed above, there is no evidence that smoking catnip is going to do anything for you at all, except to induce a good night's sleep.
If you feel like smoking it, fire ahead. It is probably a lot healthier than tobacco.
You will note, however, that cats do not smoke catnip.
They smell it.
There is a chemical in the smell that sends them wild.
Occasionally they will eat it but that can induce vomiting in cats.
Also, please note that the effect on cats wear off after only 10 minutes or so, after which they return to normal.
IzzyM (author) from UK on September 17, 2010:
Quite possibly! Barn cats will damage other things in your garden as well as fall in love with your catnip.
Boomer60 on September 17, 2010:
Ahh! I can grow catnip and keep the rats away but then every barn cat around will live in my yard. We live in farm country so we have both. I think rat poison might be a better remedy.
Tony from At the Gemba on September 16, 2010:
I had no idea that rats did not like it, great information on the plant.
IzzyM (author) from UK on September 15, 2010:
Ah so your cats are not deeply affected the way the cats in the video are!
Watch out for the neighbourhood cats!
Christina Lornemark from Sweden on September 15, 2010:
Funny hub, and great photos! I have Catnip in my garden and my cats like it, but they behave calmly and just sniffs a bit! Beautiful hub too!
IzzyM (author) from UK on September 15, 2010:
Mine doesn't :(
Strange cat I've got. Wish I had one of those mental cats!
Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on September 15, 2010:
Fun Hub! My cat loves Catnip!