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Home > General > The History of Catnip: Origins & Tips to Give It to Your Car

The History of Catnip: Origins & Tips to Give It to Your Car

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Officially known as Nepeta cataria, catnip is an herb that happens to be part of the mint family. This aromatic herb is not typically used in human cuisine, although it could be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet. But cats are extremely drawn to catnip, hence how it got its name.

Most cat owners are aware of the effect that catnip tends to have on felines. Research shows that catnip activates brain receptors and makes a cat happy and joyful. However, only about 50%–75% of cats are susceptible to the irresistible draw of catnip. If you’re curious about the history of catnip, here is all the information you should know!


The Origins of the Herb’s Name

Catnip’s official name, Nepeta cataria, is inspired by the city of Neptic in Etruria, an ancient region of Italy. The city was bustling in 650 B.C.E. and greatly impacted Roman culture. Catnip was said to be prominently grown with great success in the region. It used to make tea until Chinese tea became common in the area.

Catnip was also utilized to create salves and ointments meant for treatments. These would be used on skin rashes, scabs, other skin irregularities and injuries. It was believed that catnip could make a feeble or gentle person more quarrelsome and fiercer. There is a legend that says a certain hangman would partake in the drinking of catnip tea to ensure their courage when it came time to hang someone.1

catnip leaves
Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

Catnip in Roman Times

The Romans valued catnip as much as other herbs such as lavender, salvia, and marigold. They would use the catnip as tea to fight off problems like flatulence and to spice up their meals from time to time. The herb was used just like any other but especially as an alternative to mint due to its minty scent and flavor.

Catnip in America

It’s thought that catnip was introduced to the United States sometime in the 18th century when settlers brought it with them to use in recipes, teas, and medicinal remedies. It’s said that there is a recipe floating around from 1712 that includes catnip as an ingredient, but the actual recipe cannot be located so that it may be nothing more than a rumor. Nevertheless, catnip has been growing in America for hundreds of years and growing wild like weeds in some places.

fresh and dried catnip
Image Credit: Gaston Cerliani, Shutterstock

The New Age of Catnip

Research continues to be done on catnip to better understand its properties and how and why it has such an effect on cats. One recent study suggests that catnip and silver vine can help protect cats from mosquitoes. Cats that rubbed on or otherwise physically encountered catnip were less likely to become the victim of hungry mosquitoes. We also now know that planting catnip in the yard can keep mosquitoes from gathering.

Offering Catnip to Your Cat

Not all cats like catnip, but cats that enjoy it do so in various ways. Some get anxious and loving, while others get excited and even aggressive. Try putting a little dried catnip in a toy or sprinkling some on your carpet, then introduce your kitty to it and see what they do. If they simply walk away from it, chances are that catnip doesn’t excite them any more than any other herb or plant would. If they seem to like it, consider growing a plant in your house or yard so you always have some on hand.


Final Comments

Many cats love interacting with catnip. It makes them excited, lovable, and giddy, all at the same time. Some cats roll around in it while they purr. Others attack it with extra gusto. Still, others simply meow and kneed while sniffing it. How your cat reacts to catnip all depends on their genetics and their personality.

Featured Image Credit: Art_Pictures, Shutterstock

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