All You Wanted To Know About Catnip

All You Wanted To Know About Catnip

Catnip, a member of the mint family, is a harmless "high" for felines.

Although many cats will eat it, scientists say they're reacting to the smell rather than the taste. Felines bite, chew, rub against, and roll in catnip to release the volatile oil trapped in the leaves.

Catnip is harvested when this essential oil production reaches its peak, and leaves and fragrant flowers are carefully air-dried to preserve essential oils at their best.

About 80% of adult cats -- including lions, pumas, and leopards! -- react to this irresistible, intoxicating, analgesic soporific. The tendency to like or ignore catnip is inherited, and it's true that some cats are immune to its influence.

Nepeta cataria L.;

Mint family (Labiatae)

A hardy, upright, perennial herb with sturdy stems bearing hairy, heart-shaped, grayish-green leaves. The flowers are white or lilac, 0.25 inch long, and occur in several clusters toward the tips of the branches. Native of Eurasia, naturalized in North America.

Cultivation and Propagation: It is easily cultivated in any garden soil, with little care, as the plant does not require the moisture that most mint plants need. Plants should be grown from seed sown where they are going to stand. Bruised or recently transplanted plants are likely to be eaten by cats unless protected. The seed should be sown very thinly in rows 20 inches apart and the seedlings thinned out to 20 inches apart in the rows. It requires almost no care except occasional weeding. A bed will last several years. It can also be propagated by division of the roots in spring.

Harvesting: The herb is harvested just before flowering in middle to late summer on a dry sunny day and in late morning when all dew is gone. Drying should be done carefully. The leaves are stripped from the stems and dried as quickly as possible with good ventilation out of direct sunlight, or in an oven at 150 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid losing much volatile oil.

How to Grow Catnip

Most people and cats would agree that catnip is the ultimate cat toy. Although it is estimated that about one third of the cat population has no interest in catnip, those that do enjoy "nip", go absolutely crazy over it.

Catnip (nepeta cataria), a member of the mint family, was originally imported for medicinal use from Europe and Asia . (The dried leaves and stems can be made into tea that has diuretic qualities and induces perspiration.) It is a hardy perennial, and grows wild in many parts of the country.

Being a perennial, catnip survives the winter snow and thrives in nutrient-poor, sandy soil. It grows best in direct sunlight with good drainage, but can sometimes be grown in a partially shaded area. Once established, it requires very little care and blooms from early spring until mid-fall. Please note, that it will take approximately two weeks (or longer) for the seeds to germinate. Once the plants are growing well, thin them out to one plant every 12 inches or so, and let them grow until they just start to show signs of flowering. Then trim plants, leaving 6-8 inches of stalk on the plant. You should be able to get two cuttings from the plants in their first year.

Once the catnip is growing well, it can be propagated by dividing, or by placing stem cuttings in water with a little root inducer. Cuttings can be made any time the plant is actively growing.

Harvest your catnip on a dry, warm day. Leaves should be picked in the early spring before the plant flowers. Flowers should be picked in mid-to-late summer, when they are at their fullest. Dry flowers or leaves by placing them in a single layer in a dark, warm, well-ventilated place and leave for two-to-three weeks. If you live in a very humid climate, if you are in a hurry, or if you are having trouble keeping your cat out of the drying nip, you can dry it for 6-8 hours overnight in a very low oven (set at 100 degrees). This works just as well as the slower method.

When the catnip is dried, crumble it and store in air-tight container.

You don't have to be a creative genius to make catnip toys; an old sock stuffed with catnip will do fine. 

- With pinking shears, cut felt into four-inch squares. Take approximately one tablespoon of catnip and tie tightly into a knot

- Cut fairly heavy material (colorfast) into squares (3 - 5 inches) with pinking shears. Sew three sides, insert a good amount of catnip, and sew the remaining side, to make a little pillow

Catnip is the popular name for a plant of Asiatic origin called NAPETA CATARIA. It has a chemical within the stem and leaves called NEPETALACTONE. The names "catnip" and "catmint" are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are two different varieties of nepeta, a perennial groundcover and a member of the mint family. It is a hardy perennial groundcover that grows 2- to 3-feet high. Nepeta faassenii, better known as catmint, forms soft mounds about 2-feet high. Both varieties grow throughout North America.

It is thought that the ability to detect catnip, may be inherited. Only 2/3 of cats respond to it.Catnip was originally native to Europe and Asia. Over 2000 years ago Romans used it for cooking and healing. During the Middle Ages, catnip was used for the treatment of nervousness, colds, and gastrointestinal complaints. It was introduced to the New World by early settlers who cultivated the herb for medicinal purposes and food. As America expanded, so did the popularity of catnip.

Just how did cats become acquainted with it? Some theorize that the Egyptians, known for their worship of cats, were probably the first to offer catnip to their furry idols. Those who support this theory suggest that since Egyptians introduced domestic cats to the Middle East, they may have also introduced the pleasing effects of catnip on most cats. Whenever a cat comes across this growing in a garden, he will often rub up against it and roll around in it, in a sort of drug trip. Most members of the cat family [wild and domestic] react the same way, although not all of them. Young kittens don't react this way though, and are often repulsed by it. They don't learn to appreciate it until they are over 3 months old.

The responsive cat approaches the plant and sniffs it. He then proceeds to lick it, bite it, chew it and rub up against it repeatedly with head and chin, then purr loudly, growl, meow, roll over and even leap about. Many of the movements a cat makes mimic the movements seen when a cat is in heat, giving some people the thought that catnip is a [female] feline aphrodisiac, something that most cat scholars refute because it affects both male and female alike.

Feline catnip addicts are lucky though, because they suffer absolutely no side effects from this, unlike humans do when they smoke cannabis, a "kissing cousin" to catnip. Catnip is not the only plant to have this effect on felines. VALERIAN is another one, plus plants that contain ACTINIDINE.

The strange action of these plants though is the strangest thing of all to understand. If any of these plants were given internally, instead of putting FRISK back into the word FRISKY, the actually sedate the cat. It is strange indeed, when they are "uppers" when sniffed, and "downers" when swallowed.

Catnip is easy to grow, and the fresher the product, the more the reaction. Many toys for cats are sold as "with catnip", which supposedly encourages the cat to play. I rarely find these work, as they have been on the shelf for any length of time. I do buy, however, toys which are made with fresh catnip, as my cats like this better, and even when they have ceased to carry the odor, the cats still play with them, but more from habit. For the catnip-loving cat, sniffing this herb is harmless and non-addictive