Catnip can be found in just about any cat owner’s home. There are many cats that can’t get enough of it! Almost every cat toy is full of catnip. This little plant is full of fun and surprises. Did you know that catnip isn’t just for cats? That’s right – humans can benefit too. Let’s take a look at what makes catnip so great.

What is Catnip?

Catnip plant

A recent photo of  my Cinco and Manna’s catnip plant.

The scientific name of catnip is Nepeta Cataria;  Nepeta is a city in central Italy and Cataria is Latin for “of a cat.” Other common names for the plant include Catmint, Catswort, and Catnep. No matter what you call it, Catnip is a member of the family of mint plants (which has more than 250 members). It has broad, heart shaped green leaves, a square stem topped with a grouping of small white or lavender flowers. It is a perennial plant that can grow up to 3 feet in height! Bees love the flowers, but rats are repelled by the plant.

Catnip originated in Europe and Asia, but has spread across the world. Early settlers of the America’s brought catnip over with them and it adapted well to the new environment. Today it is an inexpensive plant that grows and spreads very easily. Many cat lovers grow it in their homes or gardens.

The Effects of Catnip in Cats

Manna and Catnip

Manna with our catnip plant a month or so ago.

Catnip is known to make cats go crazy! Some cats will rub their faces on it , lick it, roll around in it, become hyper, or behave in a sexual manner. However, some cats don’t seem to care about catnip at all. There is actually a gene that gives cats the ability to react to catnip. According to the Humane Society, about 50% of cats have the gene and 50% do not. Other statistics place the number of cats with the gene closer to 70-80%. Generally, a kitten will not react to catnip until they have reached sexual maturity ( 5 or 6 months of age).

Cats that can react to catnip are very sensitive to the smell and affects of an oil called Nepetalactone. This oil is released when the catnip plant is crushed. Nepetalactone affects 3 parts of the cat’s brain: the Olfactory Bulb (which controls the cat’s ability to smell), the Amygdala (which controls emotional responses) and the Hypothalamus (which controls major functions like hunger and sex drive). Essentially, Nepetalactone simulates a cat pheromone.

Nepetalactone has not shown to be truly addictive to cats. A cat will react to the oil for about 10 minutes and then become numb to it’s effects. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours before the cat will react to Nepetalactone again. Make sure to store your catnip in an airtight container since it can loose it’s potency over time! Placing it in the freezer can help preserve it’s freshness as well.

Uses of Catnip for Humans

Catnip is something you and your kitty can share! Humans do not share a cat’s reaction to Nepetalactone, but there are plenty of benefits for us. The plant offers a number of homeopathic remedies for humans. It is full of vitamins C and E as well as offering a tranquil chamomile-like effect in humans. Here are a few of the homeopathic uses for humans:

Catnip - Robin and a mug

Enjoying some tea.

Note: As always, talk to a doctor before trying any new remedies. While these remedies have been used and considered effective by people for many years, there isn’t necessarily a lot of scientific research available to give them the conventional medical approval.

One of the most common ways that catnip is used by humans is in tea. Add either 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip or 3-4 fresh leaves to hot water and let it steep. The effects of the tea will be greater the longer you allow the tea to steep. Do not boil the catnip or it might loose some if it’s oils. Sweeten it as you would any other herbal tea.  Other methods of using catnip include chewing the leaves, applying the oils topically, and smoking it. No side effects are reported when using catnip except that some who choose to smoke it experience nausea.

Have you (as a human) ever tried using catnip for yourself?