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Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

catmint growing in my garden

What is Catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae, the mints.

There are a number of varieties within the mints and Catnips.

Why is it Attractive to Cats?

This is a question that has not been absolutely answered yet!
This is what we know:

Are all Cats Attracted to Catnip?

Big Cat Rescue video with Catnip

Can I Grow Catnip?

winston in catnip

Catnip is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow, if no one eats it out of the ground. Seedlings are available from garden stores herb sections. It is also easy to grow from seed.

I often just throw some store bought catnip in the ground and there are enough seeds to provide catnip all season. It likes sun but will tolerage almost full shade.

It is native to Europe & Asia, however catnip has become naturalised in America & Canada after being introduced. There are approximately 250 species of Catnip, and this figure doesn't include hybrid species

To dry, just cut and hang out of reach of cats. When it's dry, place in a closed container or plastic bag and serve as required.

It is a common weed and once you know what it looks like it is easy to recognize. The smell is distinctive. Various varieties are more or less attractive to cats.

Garden stores tend to call the prettier varieties "catmint", and the regular ordinary plant "catnip". Cat's don't care about the appearance.

bee on catnip

Bees really like catnip as do many of the other pollinating insects. When I went to harvest the catnip patch last year there were so many honey bees on it that I did not have the heart to take it away from them. I just took enough for my cats and left the rest to the poor little bees.

Catnip should be harvested while it is still flowering but slightly later in the season and have gotten a bit woodier. If you harvest earlier the plants don't have as much concentrated essence as later. They also take much longer to dry.

Are there Other Plants like Catnip?

Valerian, Silver Vine, Honeysuckle, are some plants that also attract cats. See my article about plants that cat like.

Catnip's chemical structure is similar to that of the valepotriates derived from the herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) which also has a catnip-like effect on some cats

Valerian is sold for cats usually as a mixture with catnip:

Catnip as a Bug Repellant

Iowa State University found that the nepetalactone in catnip is a mosquito repellant. It is more effective than DEET. Catnip probably does not last as long since it is volatile but catnip is not toxic.

It also repels termites and cockroaches.

Mice and Rats also seem to dislike the smell and it used to be planted to repel them. (Maybe it just attracts more cats!)

Actinidine, a compound found in valerian and silver vine, is a pheromone for a variety of insects. It is used for the biological control of some insects.

Why would a plant develop a chemical that makes it attractive and more likely to be eaten by cats? It's ability to repel insects is probably the reason. Catnip puts off a smell that repels some insects that would eat it. That cat's like it too is just bad luck for the catnip plant. It is interesting that some insects such as the walking sticks have a similar compound in them presumably to make themselves less attractive as a meal to other insects.

I have personally used catnip as a bug repellant. While I was sanding a boat outside, I started getting bothered by biting flies. I rubbed some fresh catnip on myself and for about one half hour I did not get a single bite. I had to repeat again, but it's not toxic and it works.

Human use of Catnip

Catnip leaf tea was a popular beverage and like chamomile tea, the catnip tea has a mild sedative effect on humans. The herb has been used as a remedy for colic, minor aches and pains in the gums and teeth, indigestion, and as a help to sleep. Valerian is often also used to calm and help sleep. It had many uses in the early days and catnip escapees from the North American European settlers garden adapted and thrive now wild.

Catnip, uses for humans Medicinal and other uses of catnip.

emails: Christine

This article is provided for information only. It is not to be used instead of consulting a VET. If your kitty is sick get some help. Catnip is not poisonous but if your cat is in distress get some help.