Catmint or Catnip

Botanical Name: Nepeta cataria
Family:    Lamiaceae
Genus:    Nepeta
Species:N. cataria
Order:    Lamiales

Other Names:catmint, catnep, catswort, field balm

Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The members of this group are known as catnips or catmints due to its famed liking by cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats’ pheromonic receptors.

Parts Used: flowers and leaves.

Habitat-–Catmint or Catnep, a wild English plant belonging to the large family Labiatae, of which the Mints and Deadnettles are also members, is generally distributed throughout the central and the southern counties of England, in hedgerows, borders of fields, and on dry banks and waste ground, especially in chalky and gravelly soil. It is less common in the north, very local in Scotland and rare in Ireland, but of frequent occurrence in the whole of Europe and temperate Asia, and also common in North Arnerica, where originally. however. it was an introduced species. It grows   on the roadsides and near streams. Hedgerows, borders of fields, dry banks and waste ground, especially on calcareous and gravelly soils.


Catnip is a gray green aromatic perennial plant that grows to 3 feet and bears all the hallmarks of the mint family, a square stem, fuzzy leaves, and twin-lipped flowers. The oblong or cordate, pointed leaves have scalloped edges and gray or whitish hairs on the lower side. The flowers are white with purple spots and grow in spikes from June to September.

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The root is perennial and sends up square, erect and branched stems, 2 to 3 feet high, which are very leafy and covered with a mealy down. The heartshaped, toothed leaves are also covered with a soft, close down, especially on the under sides, which are quite white with it, so that the whole plant has a hoary, greyish appearance, as though it had had dust blown over it.
The flowers grow on short footstalks in dense whorls, which towards the summit of the stem are so close as almost to form a spike. They are in bloom from July to September. The individual flowers are small, the corollas two-lipped, the upper lip straight, of a whitish or pale pink colour, dotted with red spots, the anthers a deep red colour. The calyx tube has fifteen ribs, a distinguishing feature of the genus Nepeta, to which this species belongs.

Cultivation—Catmint is easily grown in any garden soil, and does not require moisture in the same way as the other Mints. It may be increased by dividing the plants in spring, or by sowing seeds at the same period. Sow in rows, about 20 inches apart, thinning out the seedlings to about the same distance apart as the plants attain a considerable size. They require no attention, and will last for several years if the ground is kept free from weeds. The germinating power of the seeds lasts five years.

Propagation :
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame in the autumn. The germination of spring sown seed can be erratic, it is best sown in a cold frame. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer. The seed remains viable for about 5 years. A fast-growing plant, the seedlings can reach flowering size in their first year. If you have sufficient freshly ripe seed then it is well worth trying a sowing outdoors in situ in the autumn. Division in spring or autumn. Very easy, large divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer. Basal cuttings in late spring or early summer. Harvest the shoots with plenty of underground stem when they are about 8 – 10cm above the ground. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer.

Effects on cats:
Catnip contains the feline attractant nepetalactone. Nepeta cataria (and some other species within the genus Nepeta) are known for their behavioral effects on the cat family, not only on domestic cats but also other species of cats. One test showed that tigers, leopards, and lynxes all reacted strongly to catnip in a manner similar to domestic cats, while lions reacted less frequently.

With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for pet cats’ enjoyment, and catnip and catnip-laced products designed for use with domesticated cats are available to consumers. The common behaviors when cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip are rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, pawing at it, licking it, and chewing it. Consuming much of the plant is followed by drooling, sleepiness, anxiety, leaping about and purring. Some growl, meow, scratch, or bite at the hand holding it.[a] The main response period after exposure is generally between five and fifteen minutes,:p.107 after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in.

The nepetalactone in catnip acts as a feline attractant after it enters the feline’s nose. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium, not through their vomeronasal organ. At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptors.

Not all cats are affected by catnip. Roughly half to two thirds of cats are affected by the plant. The phenomenon is hereditary.

Other plants that also male cats prefer males have this effect on cats include valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Acalypha indica (root) and plants that contain actinidine. Domestic house cats who do not react to catnip will react in a similar way to Tartarian honeysuckle sawdust.

Catnip contains nepetalactone, a terpene. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium and not through their vomeronasal organ . At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone is hypothesized to bind to one or more G-protein coupled receptors on the surface of sensory neurons which are found in the sensory layer of the organ. Via a signal transduction pathway (probably involving a G-protein and a transient receptor potential channel) an influx of calcium ions that occurs creates an action potential along the axon of the neuron. The sensory neurons from the olfactory epithelium project to the olfactory bulb where multiple neurons (each expressing a single receptor type) synapse at special neuropil called glomeruli. Here the neurons synapse with mitral cells which, in turn, project to various brain loci, including the amygdala, where the signals are integrated into behavioural signals. There is some evidence of projections to the hypothalamus, which in turn regulates a neuroendocrine response via the pituitary gland. These hormones would mediate the “sexual response.” The chemical probably hijacks the pathway normally influenced by a cat pheromone.

When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they will rub in it, roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, often salivating copiously. Some cats will also growl and meow. This reaction only lasts for a few minutes before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to “reset” and then it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before. Young kittens and older cats are less likely to have a reaction to catnip, but big cats, such as tigers, seem to be extremely sensitive to it.

Cat toys can contain catnip and some cats love to play with them while others are not interested. Cat owners do not need to worry about allowing their cats access to catnip because there are, for the most part, no negative side effects to doing so. However, some cats become overly excited when exposed to catnip, so aging or obese cats with heart troubles should be kept away from it. A diabetic cat can also experience complications from catnip.

Edible Uses: 
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.

Young leaves – raw. A mint-like flavour, they make an aromatic flavouring in salads. Older leaves are used as a flavouring in cooked foods. They can be used fresh or dried to make an aromatic herb tea. The tea should be infused in a closed container in order to preserve the essential oils, boiling is said to spoil it.

Part Used Medicinally—The flowering tops are the part utilized in medicine and are harvested when the plant is in full bloom in August.

Medicinal Action and Uses—Carminative, tonic, diaphoretic, refrigerant and slightly emmenagogue, specially antispasmodic, and mildly stimulating.

Catnip is an hallucinogen in cats but not in humans. It acts as an antispasmodic and a carminative relieving flatulence. It is also a mild sedative for the relief of insomnia

Producing free perspiration, it is very useful in colds. Catnep Tea is a valuable drink in every case of fever, because of its action in inducing sleep and producing perspiration without increasing the heat of the system. It is good in restlessness, colic, insanity and nervousness, and is used as a mild nervine for children, one of its chief uses being, indeed, in the treatment of children’s ailments. The infusion of 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water may be taken by adults in doses of 2 tablespoonsful, by children in 2 or 3 teaspoonsful frequently, to relieve pain and flatulence. An injection of Catnep Tea is also used for colicky pains.

Cough & Insomnia
Catnip is used as an tranquilizer, sedative, digestive aid, and treatments for colds, colic, diarrhea, flatulence, and fever. Extract of catnip has been found to be cytotoxic to HELA-S3 cancer cells in cell culture.

Digestive Aid: Catnip may soothe the smooth muscles of the digestive tract (making it an antispasmodic). Have a cup of catnip tea after meals if you are prone to indigestion or heartburn.

Women’s Health: Antispasmodics calm not only the digestive tract but other smooth tracts as well, such as uterus. Catnip’s antispasmodic effect supports its traditional use for relieving menstrual cramps. Catnip is also used as a menstruation promoter. Pregnant women should avoid using this herb.

Tranquilizer: Catnip is a mild tranquilizer and sedative.

Infection Prevention: Catnip has some antibiotic properties. It is used for the treatment of diarrhea and fever.

The herb should always be infused, boiling will spoil it. Its qualities are somewhat volatile, hence when made it should be covered up.

The tea may be drunk freely, but if taken in very large doses when warm, it frequently acts as an emetic.

It has proved efficacious in nervous headaches and as an emmenagogue, though for the latter purpose, it is preferable to use Catnep, not as a warm tea, but to express the juice of the green herb and take it in tablespoonful doses, three times a day.

An injection of the tea also relieves headache and hysteria, by its immediate action upon the sacral plexus. The young tops, made into a conserve, have been found serviceable for nightmare.

Catnep may be combined with other agents of a more decidedly diaphoretic nature. Equal parts of warm Catnep tea and Saffron are excellent in scarlet-fever and small-pox, as well as colds and hysterics. It will relieve painful swellings when applied in the form of a poultice or fomentation.

Old writers recommended a decoction of the herb, sweetened with honey for relieving a cough, and Culpepper tells us also that ‘the juice drunk in wine is good for bruises,’ and that ‘the green leaves bruised and made into an ointment is effectual for piles,’ and that ‘the head washed with a decoction taketh away scabs, scurf, etc.’

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Other Uses:
Essential; Herbicide; Pot-pourri; Repellent.

The plant is said to deter insects such as ants and flea beetles as well as rats and mice. (The idea behind it being a rat repellent is probably based on the plants attraction to cats, see notes above.) A strong infusion can be used to repel fleas from carpets or the fur of animals. An extract from the leaves (called nepetalactone) has herbicidal and insect repellent properties. The freshly harvested flowering tops contain 0.3 – 1% essential oil by distillation. It is mainly used for medicinal purposes. The dried leaves retain their fragrance and can be used in pot-pourr.

Known Hazards : Catnip has diuretic properties and may increase amount and frequency of urination. Smoking catnip can produce euphoria and visual hallucinations. Sedation. Women with inflammatory diseases of the pelvis or are pregnant should not use. Care if using and driving or using machines

No adverse side effects were reported if used in reasonable quantities or doses. Some people may experience upset stomach. FDA classifies catnip as a drug of “undefined safety”. No significant toxic reactions have ever been reported

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider

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