Catnip: Everything You Need To Know

Catnip: Everything You Need To Know

Catnip has been used traditionally within various cultures as a healing herb. Although the research is early, interesting results are emerging as to why catnip produces its relaxing effects.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip, also called catmint and catswort, is herb most famously known for being able to send cats into nirvana. Felines seem irresistibly attracted to the scent of this herb, and usually proceed to roll around in it before chowing down. Once the effects set in, cats seem to experience an intense altered state of consciousness; their pupils widen, they become erratic, and usually start to move around with speed. Although it’s fun to watch cats enjoy the effects of this seemingly psychoactive herb, there is much more to this plant species than feline entertainment.

Catnip, known by its scientific name Nepeta cataria, has been used historically and is still employed by some people today in attempts to improve digestion and relax muscles. The species belongs to the same family of plants as many mints and deadnettles (the Lamiaceae family) and is highly prolific in nature, found within its native regions of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and certain regions of China. The plant has also spread beyond its home range into Northern Europe, North America, and New Zealand.

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Botany

Botany Catnip

Catnip is a perennial plant that grows to 50–100cm in height, reaching a similar width. Being a member of the mint family, you'll find that catnip looks very similar to the Mentha spicata species, also known as common mint. You'll see it showing off green leaves that are wide at the base and taper into a point. These leaves are accompanied by small flowers during the blooming period, which sport pretty colours of pink and white, along with fine purple spots.

Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, plants appear mostly in forests and meadows. Catnip is naturalised in North America too, meaning it wasn't native, but was brought over and able to maintain a steady population. Given its roots in mostly hot environments, it tends to need full sun exposure and warm temperatures to thrive. It's quite winter hardy, so no need to worry there.

Plants flower from July until September, so you’ll want to get seeds in the ground at some point between mid-March and mid-May. Opt for nutrient-rich, water-permeable, and overall loose soil for these plants. You'll want to maintain a fresh, moderately moist environment, while also making sure the soil maintains a pH value between 6.1 and 7.8, and stays free of salt.

History

Catnip History

Giving catnip to your feline friend is a relatively modern phenomenon. However, records of humans using catnip go back thousands of years. In fact, even the ancient Romans were said to have used it as an herbal tonic. As the centuries passed, it made its way to the Americas with the settlers, becoming more commonly used as the 18th century kicked off.

Our first written record from that time came out of Massachusetts in 1712, in which a food recipe listed catnip as an ingredient. Boxers from this era also chewed on it between matches because it supposedly made them more aggressive. Native Americans began using it around this time too, incorporating it into their own herbal preparations.

Effects

Catnip Effects

Today, catnip is primarily given to cats to add some spice to their furry lives. Specifically, upon consuming the herb, cats get hit with a wave of euphoria. Some roll around in bliss, others get especially playful, while others just mellow out and relax. Only around half of all house cats actually feel an effect, though. Furthermore, you won't know whether your feline feels catnip or not until they're 3–6 months old.

Shifting back to humans, it doesn't interact with our system in the same way it does our cats, but there are still benefits to be found. If you're having trouble achieving a restful night’s sleep, for instance, catnip may help improve your sleep readiness. The herb's properties can also help support digestion, with its soothing effect going a long way to promote natural bowel movements. People who use catnip regularly have reported a range of other benefits, but there's still not much research out on the topic.