Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a wild perennial plant that you can find growing in almost any well-drained soil, particularly in disturbed areas and along habitat edges. The ingredient that gives it its distinctive smell is nepetalactone. This compound serves a vital function for these plants by repelling insects. Interestingly, the chemical disappeared early in the evolutionary history of the genus, only to re-emerge later. New evidence suggests that it can have a similar use for humans as a chemical that is even more effective than DEET.
As a member of the mint family, catnip is an aromatic species like others in this group, such as peppermint and spearmint. Scientists theorize that its composition is similar to feline pheromones in how it influences behavior. Animals can detect airborne concentrations in as little as a 1:1 trillion ratio. Most cats begin interactions by sniffing the catnip, which often makes them sneeze. They may eventually eat it, become playful while rolling around, and then fall asleep. It is not harmful to them, nor does it have any sexual significance. Typically, catnip is served dried and plain, but you can also make tea out of it.
Benefits of Catnip
You’ll find catnip in several forms, including dried herbs, aerosol sprays, greens, and toys. Evidence exists that supports catnip having a few of its alleged health benefits, including antimicrobial activity against fungi and bacteria. That falls in line with the folklore uses of this plant by early settlers and the Ojibwa, Cherokee, and Delaware peoples.
While you may see it in cat treats, it’s not usually a tea for felines. People sometimes use catnip tea to settle fussy children suffering from GI issues, colic, or respiratory problems. Cats share about 90% of our DNA and have a similar brain structure. We may surmise from these facts that catnip may have comparable health benefits for our pets as it does for humans.
For example, cats use chemical signals to navigate their world and feel secure in their homes. Therefore, it makes sense that the scent of brewing catnip tea may be able to reduce anxiety. Cats can certainly smell better than people, with 200 million scent receptors to our 5 million. If merely smelling catnip starts a reaction, it isn’t too much of a leap of faith that getting it in another form, one that focuses on the chemicals that give it its scent, will also do the trick.
It’s beginning to sound like it’s time to put the kettle on the stove!
Catnip grows wild, so you can easily gather some and dry it yourself. We strongly urge you to vet the location where you collect it carefully, though. Make sure the area isn’t sprayed with pesticides, since many people consider it a weed. You should also find out whether it’s legal for you to harvest plants if you’re going on public land. You can then dry the leaves and keep the tea in a sealed container in the pantry.
The alternative is to get a commercial product where the manufacturer has done this work for you. You can buy it either in bags or loose. We recommend checking the ingredients on the package. You should only buy teas that are 100% catnip. Some companies will often produce blends with other aromatic plants. Ingredients like lemon or mint are toxic to cats. They can cause nausea and GI distress if eaten in large quantities.
The same caution applies to preparing the catnip tea, so do not add a squeeze of lemon. While honey isn’t harmful to cats, it’s high in sugar and can cause an upset stomach.
The recipe for brewing catnip tea is straightforward.
- Strainer (Optional)
- 2-3 teaspoons Catnip
- Put a teaspoon or two in a cup or bowl.
- Add warm water and let it steep for about 3 minutes.
- You can either strain the tea or keep the leaves in the liquid for your kitty to eat.
Don’t be surprised if your cat drinks more water than they usually do after ingesting catnip. Felines typically meet their moisture needs from their food. However, the addition of catnip may change that.
We may not know precisely why catnip attracts felines. Perhaps it helps with seed dispersal for the plants, which would make evolutionary sense. In any case, it’s satisfying to know that we can give our pets something that they will enjoy. If you’re lucky, your cat may even share their tea with you. Then, you’ll both feel more relaxed.
- Catmint vs. Catnip: What Are The Differences?
- Catnip Bubbles and Catnip Wine: A Good or Bad Idea for Your Cat?
Featured Image Credit: Doug McLean, Shutterstock