- Official name of Catnip: Nepeta - Family: Labiatae (Lamiaceae) (mint family)
- English Names: catnip, catmint, catnep, catrup, catwort, English catnip, field
balm, nep, nip
The following information is exerpted from NRC RESEARCH PRESS Publications.
Interesting Facts about Catnip
The generic name Nepeta is said to have been derived
from the town Nepete in Italy where catnip was once
cultivated (Bunney 1992).
Nepeta has about 250 species of perennial, sometimes
annual, herbaceous plants native to dry habitats in temperate
Europe, Asia, northern Africa and the mountains of tropical
Africa. Several species are grown as ornamentals and as
Nepeta cataria is an erect perennial, 0.3-1.6 m high, which
produces small whitish or pinkish (occasionally blue or lilac),
purple- or red-dotted flowers. The plant is strongly scented
with a mint-like odor, rather like pennyroyal (discussed in this
book), which many find somewhat disagreeable. Catnip is
native from the eastern Mediterranean region to the western
Himalayas, central Asia, southern Siberia, and China. It has
been introduced in Japan, North America, South Africa, and
Java. Catnip has become widely introduced in North
America, and has been collected as far north as Alaska. As a
weed, it is found in hedges, fence rows, roadsides, stream
banks, and waste places.
Catnip was cultivated for cats by the classical Greeks and
Romans (le Strange 1977). By 1265 it was a familiar herb of
kitchen gardens in England (le Strange 1977). During the
early medieval period the leaves and young shoots are known
to have been used as a seasoning in the kitchen. In 15th
century England, catnip leaves were used for rubbing meats
before cooking, and also sprinkled in mixed green salads
(Macleod 1968). Before modern Chinese tea became widely
available, catnip tea was frequently consumed in England
The response of domesticated cats to catnip has been
extensively studied. Any branches of catnip that have been
bruised or broken will emit the catnip chemicals. The cats
sniff, then lick and chew while shaking their heads, followed
by chin and cheek rubbing and a headover roll and body
rubbing. They may become quite vocal. Because the reaction
is similar to estrous rolling patterns, and sexual stimulation is
apparent (even in neutered cats), some have interpreted
catnip as an aphrodisiac. Cats take great pleasure in rolling in
and eating the foliage, returning daily to repeat the
experience. Catnip does not appear to harm cats.
Kittens less than 2 months old do not react or react only partially to catnip,
and the full behavioral pattern may not develop until cats are
3 months old.
While most domesticated and wild cats are affected by
catnip, not all are "nipaholics." A dominant gene has been
shown to be responsible for inheriting the response.
Uses of Catnip
- The principal culinary use of catnip is as a tea, which is
reputedly sedative and soporific (sleep-inducing). Fresh or
dried leaves and young shoots are sometimes used for
flavoring sauces, soups, and cooked foods. Dried leaves are
employed in herb mixtures for soups, stews, and condiment
sauces. Catnip has a strongly minty, warm, pungent,
bitterish, amphoraceous taste.
- Catnip was once used extensively in medicine, but it is now
best known for inducing a euphoric response in cats. Cats
purr contentedly, tear with delight, and roll in ecstasy on the
crushed leaves of catnip.
- Catnip also attracts bees, but not for the same reason that it
attracts cats. It is an excellent honey plant, providing nectar
for honeybees and other bees. According to Crockett and
Tanner (1977), goldfinches are drawn to the dry seed heads