Captain's Cabin

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Myth Monday: Catnip


This is not really a myth. Catnip is near and dear to the hearts...or noses...of most felines, myself included. But why does catnip effect us the way it does?

Catnip is the common name for Nepeta cataria, a perennial herb of the mint family. It is native to Europe but was imported to other countries. It is now widespread in North America, and sometimes considered a weed by gardeners.

To humans, catnip has a mild scent, but it does not evoke any sort of reaction when smelled. For Cats however, a chemical called nepetalactone in the catnip sets off a psychosexual response in many Cats which includes rubbing it all over our bodies, rolling in it, kicking at it, eating it and generally going crazy.

The reaction only lasts for a few minutes (between 5 and 15 minutes) and it make take several hours to "reset" yourself for the next dose of catnip.

Not all Cats are affected. The reaction appears to be inherited and some cats are totally unaffected by it. About 10 to 30% of any given domestic Cat population may be unresponsive to catnip.

Large Cats, like Tigers, cougars, bobcats, lions, and lynxes, can also be sensitive to the smell.

Very young kittens less than three months old and older cats seem to have less of a reaction to catnip, and kittens under the age of 6 weeks my actually display an aversion to it.

The chemical structure of Nepetalactone is similar to that in valepotriates, which is derived from the herb Valerian, and which sometimes acts as a mild stimulant to humans. (Usually Valerian acts as a sedative on the human nervous system.)

Nepetalactone effects the vomeronasal organ, which is located in your mouth over your palate. Catnip must be inhaled for it to have an effect. Eating it (such as in a caplet form) will not produce an effect.

Human herbalists have used catnip for many centuries as a treatment for colic, headache, fever, toothache, colds, and spasms. Catnip is an excellent sleep-inducing agent (as with valerian, in certain individuals it acts as a stimulant). Both people and cats find catnip can cause vomiting if eaten in large doses. It exhibits antibacterial properties and may be useful as an anti-atherosclerotic agent. (That is, it reduces the fatty substances that build up on inner lining of arterial walls and which can sometimes cause heart attacks.)

It is also used as an adjunct in treating menstration pain and is given in tincture form to aid amenorrhea (absense of mestruation).

(Note to Dragonheart: maybe your mom should try drinking some catnip tea on a daily basis?)

15th century English cooks would rub catnip leaves on meats before cooking and add it to mixed green salads. Before Chinese tea became widely available, catnip tea was very popular.

There is scientific evidence that catnip and nepetalactone may be effective cockroach repellents as well. Iowa State University researchers found nepetalactone to be 100x more effective at repelling cockroaches than DEET, a common (and toxic) insect repellent. Purified nepetalactone has also been shown to kill flies. (Pity it doesn't kill fleas!)

If you can't find commerical catnip teas, here is a recipe your humans can try:

1/2 cup dried catnip
3/4 cup dried chamomile
1 cup dried lemon balm
1/4 cup dried mint
1/4 cup dried lemongrass

Mix the herbs thoroughly, and store in an air tight container. For a cup of tea, use 2 tsp in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and strain out the herbs.

But don't be surprised if you find us trying to sip your tea as well!

You can find more recipes and uses for Catnip at the Creative Homemaking website.


Daisy said...

Wow, I learned a lot! I loves the 'nip. I am sorry there are some cats who do not enjoy it.

-d ma said...

Very informative. My friend gave me some of the catnip plant to plant in my garden. The boyz sure do love fresh cat nip. And I enjoy the smell as well.

Captain Jack and Sir Dante said...

Wow! We never knew so much about nip. Captain Jack grew into nip just like your post says - he ignored it as a kitten and is now an addict as an adult!

Kellie The Orange Cat said...

That was such an informative post, I learned alot. I love the nip. I have a catnip pillow that I lick and lick and lick. My Mum says it is gross when she has to pick it up because it is all soggy.

P.S. My Mum grew me a catnip plant this summer, but I don't like fresh catnip - only dried!

Tybalt said...

Thanks, Diamond! I learned a lot once again. I knew a little about catnip, but now I know a lot more. Maybe I should get mum to drink catnip tea.

Chairman Mao said...

That's a furry fassinating and educkashunal post! And Momma thinks that catnip tea sounds yummiferous!

Kittyhugs and purrs from MaoMao.

Cheysuli and gemini said...

Alas, I shall never get any herb so tasty. I swear Chinese herbal medicine is designed to taste horrible!

michico*Adan said...

Michico often have some catnip tea for herself.
Because she wants to be like me~~

I have learned a lot, thank you~!!!
I love nip, too.

Parker said...

We all Love the nip!

Kaz's Cats said...

G'Day Diamond, Thanks for all of the info on catnip. We both like catnip, although Tasha, as the youngster is only just over 3 years old, REALLY gets into it. I (Gypsy) like it but as a geezer cat I'm allowed to show a bit more decorum.

I'll have to get Mum into catnip tea - thanks for the idea,



Tamra Maew said...

Oh wow! I am definitely going to make some catnip tea for my servants, maybe that way they won't bring me to the V-E-T to play cards or whatever.