The Origins of CatNip

13 03 2007

Sometimes something pops into my head, and I think to myself – I’m interested in that, I want to learn about that. . . . oddly my topic for today is Catnip. . . . so I have complied some information I read and gathered today about the topic of CatNip.   I hope you all find CatNip as interesting as me. . . hahahahahahahhaha.

Cat Nip is defined on as:

  1. A hairy aromatic perennial herb (Nepeta cataria) in the mint family, native to
    Eurasia and containing an aromatic oil to which cats are strongly attracted.
  2. Any of various other mostly aromatic plants of the genus Nepeta, cultivated for their ornamental foliage and clusters of blue, lavender, or white flowers.

But we know it as that green stuff that makes our cats act silly!Since the Middle Ages, the English had called it cat mint, because it belongs to the mint family, and because cats, domestic and wild, go wild for it. Another Middles Ages name for cat mint given by the English nep. A recipe of about 1420 calls for seasoning “with persoley, sauge, ysope, savery, A little nep.”The first evidence of nep in the
Americas was from Massachuetts in 1712. “He boiled tansy, sage, hysop, and catnip in some of ye best wort.” .
  The word was slightly altered and ‘cat’ was added, thus getting the name we are more familiar with catnip.  

Fun Facts about Cat Nip

  •  Catnip was originally native to Asia and to

  • Some people theorize that Egyptians, who were known for their worship of cats, might have been the first people to offer catnip to the cats.
  • It was introduced to the Americas who cultivated it for food and medical purposes, and as the
    New World expanded so did the uses and popularity of Catnip and Catmint.
  •  Kittens often don’t react well to catnip, and are often repulsed by it.  They don’t learn to appreciate the effects of catnip until they are over three months old.
  • Only 2/3 of cats respond to catnip, although the ability to detect catnip may be inherited
  • Catnip was used in cooking and healing by the Romans
  • Used as a treatment for gastrointestinal complaints, nervousness and colds in during the Middle Ages
  • Most members of the cat family either wild or domestic react the same way, rubbing up againsit and rolling around in it, in a ‘drug trip’ of sorts.


Science Stuff

The NAPETA CATARIA, or Catnip as its popular name is a plant of Asiatic origins, it is a hardy groundcover perennial and a member of the Mint family (Labiatae).  The Cataria can grow two to three feet high.  The root sends up square, erect, and branched stems which is very leafy and are covered with a downy gray hair. The leaves are heart-shaped and toothed and covered with a soft, close down. This gives the plant a grayish-green appearance, as though dust has blown over it. The white or pale lavender tubular flowers all with purplish spots are in bloom from July to September.  The flowers form small light clusters.  The plant secretes an aromatic oil, which is similar to that of mint, to discourage insects that would otherwise eat its leaves. The odor of this oil has a strange fascination for cats,NEPETA FAASSENII, the second of the two varieties of Nepeta better known as Catmint grows about 2 feet high and forms soft mounds..  Both varieties of Napeta grow throughout North America, Catnip is a common garden plant now on the continent, but the plant is also found growing in hedges, fence rows, roadsides, railroad tracks, stream banks, and water ditches. 

The chemical within the leaves and stem is that the Nepeta plants share is called NEPETALACTONE .  The flowering tops of the plant are used in medicine. The other names of the plant arecatnep, catmint, cat’s-play, catrup, catwort,nip, nep, and field balm. 


Cat reactions to Catnip 

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. Personally I don’t find that dried catnip works with my cats, the fresh home grown variety seems to attract them much more.  Store bought dried catnip often has been on the shelf for a long period of time. For the catnip-loving cat, sniffing this herb is harmless and non-addictive  

A responsive cat approaches the catnip plant and sniffs it. He then proceeds to bite, chew and up againsit it, licking and repeating the whole process.  They will headbutt the plant and show their satifcation with purrs.  Some cats even meow & growl and they leap and roll all over the plant.  It is said that many of the actions and movements cats do in the presence of ‘nip mimic that of a cat in heat.  Some have thought that cat nip is even a feline aphrodisiac. 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.

Medicinal properties 

Tea made from catnip has been used to relieve intestinal cramps and gas discomforts, also they havebeen applied to sore breasts of nursing mothers and to the neck for tonsillitis.  Recent researches show that consumption of teas containing catnip has anti-cholinergic effects The leaves of catnip have traditionally been chewed as a remedy for alleviating toothaches. The inhabitants of
Southern Appalachia have used it since the eighteenth century as a remedy for cold.. Catnip has been used for relief of insomnia and prevention of nightmares, and has a mild anti-spasmodic effect and is used to treat cramps. The juice from the leaves was used to stimulate menstrual flow. It has been used in the treatment of children’s ailments, such as colicky pain, flatulence and restlessness. The herb has also been used as a cold remedy, for hives, as a diaphoretic, a refrigerant and an anodyne.  

Catnip is also sold as an dietary supplement for general well being and to promote a healthy immune system during the cold and flu season. 

The flowering tops of catnip yield up to 1.0% volatile oil, 78 % being nepatalactone, the main attractant to cats. Thymol extracted from catnip has beneficial antiseptic uses on the skin and in the nasal and pharyngeal passages. 

 Non-medicinal uses

Obviously the most common non-medical use for catnip is as stuffing in toys for cats.  Some less common used for catnip include, using small quantities as a scent in trapping bobcats and mountain lions.  Many of the compounds found in catnip oil, namely, citronellal, geraniol, citral, carvacrol, and pulegone can be used as excellent natural insecticides. Thymol extracted from catnip is used as a fungicide. 


Growing  & Harvesting CatnipCatnip  can be grown in sandy soil within a pH range of 5.8 to 7.5 and annual precipitation between 16-51 inches.  The catnip plant is very hardy and grows well in full sun 

Before planting the shells of the seeds should be softened, this can be done by soaking them in water.  You’re your plants start to sprout you should thin them out allowing for space up to 20 inches between plants.  seeds should be  

When the plant is in full bloom the flowering tops should be harvested, this is done by cutting a few inches above the ground.  To quicken the drying time, the steams should be broken in several places.


How Stuff Works

Pictures of CatNip






11 responses

13 03 2007

Hi Joey,

This was a good post. My neighbour’s cat comes by and hangs out at our place a few hours a day and we were discussing getting some catnip for him. Now we know what we’ll be getting ourselves into.

Phil @

13 03 2007

Hey Phil,

Thanks for stopping by! Glad it could help you out, and I’m also glad I’m not the only one who was thinking about Cat Nip. . . . .

3 09 2007
Marie Suzanne

Wow! So much information on Cat Nip!
I have learned so much!
Congratulation! Your site is very nice and informative!
Marie Suzanne from

3 09 2007

You’d laugh if I told you how long I read, complied, researched and cut-n-pasted to make this entry. . . .

I wanted to know a lot about it ’cause the mogs seem to like it. . . .


Thanks for stopping by, Marie Suzanne. . . . .Your blog is pretty darn nice too, and I think I could learn a lot from your gardening tips. . . . 🙂

11 09 2007
Carmen from Kingston

Your web site was just great! My cat doesn’t like that store bought stuff. I put in two plants in my yard this summer and they have grown great. I tie my cat up when he is outside. The plants are within his reach. He loves it. I am so glad he is happy. thanks so much.

11 09 2007

Hi Carmen,

Thanks for stopping by. . . . . .

My guys like the fresh stuff too, although they will ‘settle’ for the dried stuff.


19 09 2007

Hi, Thanks for all your useful information! I was searching for catnip and it’s medicinal purposes and found your site, it was very informative! Who knew there was so much to know about catnip?! Thanks!


19 09 2007

Hey Jordan, glad it helped you out. . . ..

4 01 2008

Wow, I REALLY enjoyed learning about catnip. I did not know it had so many uses. Thank you.

3 03 2008
Carmen from Kingston

I grew my catnip in the summer and cut off the long stems at the end of summer and tied them up. My cat has been enjoying catnip all winter. It’s been great.

11 03 2008
Songs and Names » The Origins of CatNip joey moggie

[…] Read more about this topic from the author here. […]

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