Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - Everything You Need to Know About Catnip! | General Cat Articles

Plants toxic to cats - A - Z guide to toxic plants

Diabetes - An endocrine disorder in cats  which is caused by insufficient insulin production or insulin resistance.

Hyperthyroidism - Caused by a benign tumour of the thyroid gland which produces excess amounts of hormones which increase metabolism.

Cat fleas - Everything you need to know about cat fleas and how to get rid of them.


Cat World > Cat Articles > All About Catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - Everything You Need to Know About Catnip!

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - Everything You Need to Know About Catnip! | General Cat Articles
Table of contents

What is catnip?   Effects of catnip on cats   What happens when a cat consumes catnip?   Is catnip harmful to cats?   Mechanism of action   Is catnip addictive?   Can pregnant cats have catnip?   How to give catnip to a cat   How much catnip should I give my cat?   Where can I purchase catnip?   How to grow catnip   Harvesting, storing and drying catnip   Can humans get high on catnip?   Culinary uses for catnip   Medicinal uses for catnip

catnip flowerGenus: Nepeta

Family: Lamiaceae

Botanical name: Nepeta catara

What is catnip?

Catnip is a perennial herb from the mint family Labiatae. It has a square, hairy stalk with typically green/grey coloured heart shaped leaves that have scalloped edges. Flowers grow in spikes, reaching 1/2 inch in length. It is best known for its ability to get cats high.

There are approximately 250 species of flowering plants in the family Labiatae, some of which include:

Nepeta cataria (catnip or true catnip): White flowers, grows up to 3 feet. This is the variety most cats enjoy.

Nepeta camphorata (camphor catnip): White flowers with purple dots, grows up to 18 inches. Camphor scent.

Nepeta parnassica (Greek catnip): White, pale pink flowers, grows up to 18 inches.

Nepeta cataria citriodora (Lemon catnip): White flowers, spotted with purple, grows up to 3 feet. The leaves have a lemony scent.

Nepeta mussinii (Persian catmint): Purple flowers. This plant has smallish, grey/green leaves. It grows up to 15 inches high.

Native to Europe and Asia, catnip became naturalised in North America and Canada after being introduced by the colonists in the 1600s. The name Nepeta is believed to have come from the town of Nepete in Italy, and Cataria is thought to have come from the Latin word for cat.

Nepeta cataria is also known by the following names: cataria, catmint, catnep, catrup, cat's healall, cats-play, true catnip, cat's wort, catswort, catwort, chi hsueh tsao, field balm, Garden Nep, Herba Cataria, Herba Catti, Nebada, Nep.

Catnip effects on cats:

catnip for catsThe active ingredient that causes a high in cats is an essential oil called nepetalactone, which can be found in the leaves and stems of the plant. Other constituents include acetic acid, alpha, and beta-nepetalactone, citral, nepetalactone, geraniol, dipentene, citronellol, nerol, butyric acid, valeric acid and tannins.

Nepetalactone causes a hallucinogenic effect. Some say the effects are similar to LSD; others say they are more similar to marijuana (some people claim that smoking catnip induces a high like that of marijuana, not that we recommend you try it). Because cats affected by catnip roll on the floor—which mimics a female in estrus—it has been suggested that the plant acts as an aphrodisiac, but this is unlikely, as males react the same way as females. What is likely is the cat is reacting to similar feel-good pheromones released during sexual courtship/activity. However, non-sexual behaviour—including playing, chasing, and hunting—can also be observed.


Around 50–66% of cats are affected by catnip and to differing degrees. Kittens younger than eight weeks old aren't able to enjoy its effect; in fact, they show an aversion to it. It's not just domesticated cats who enjoy the effects of catnip; many other wild species of cats also enjoy it including lions, tigers, leopards, servals, lynxes, leopards and cougars. Cats can smell 1 part per billion in the air. Males and females, fertile or desexed—there appears to be no one group more readily affected by catnip than another.


The response to catnip is inherited as an autosomal dominant gene, which means the gene only needs to be passed on from one parent.

Is catnip addictive to cats?

No it is not. So you can safely give your catnip whenever he wants without risk.

Mechanism of action of catnip in cats:

The response to catnip is mediated through the olfactory system.

  1. When nepetalactone enters the cat's nasal passages, it binds to olfactory sensory neurons found in the olfactory epithelium (specialised tissue located in the roof of the nasal cavity, at the back of the nose), which is involved in smell. A layer of mucus covers the olfactory epithelium which traps odour molecules.
  2. The olfactory sensory neurons send signals through the olfactory tract to the olfactory bulb which is located in the front part of the brain and responsible for processing smells.
  3. The olfactory bulb then sends signals to several regions of the brain including the amygdala (responsible for emotions) and the hypothalamus (responsible for behavioural responses).

Interesting fact

The cat's sense of smell is far superior to that of humans. The size of the feline olfactory epithelium is 20 cm squared, compared to our paltry 2 - 4 cm squared. Cats also have 200 million scent sensors and humans have 5 million.

What happens when a cat consumes catnip?

Four responses have been described when a cat encounters catnip.

  1.  Sniffing
  2.  Chewing, licking and head shaking
  3.  Chin and cheek rubbing
  4.  Head rolling and body rubbing

Additional responses may include stretching, drooling, jumping, licking, aggression, and hyperactivity. Sniffing produces the high; it is believed that cats chew or eat catnip it is to bruise the leaves, thereby releasing more of the nepetalactone.

The high produced will usually last between five and ten minutes, followed by a one hour period where the cat remains unaffected by catnip.

Is catnip harmful to cats?

Catnip is not harmful to your cat. They won't overdose on it. Most cats know when they've had enough and will refuse any further offers.

Can pregnant cats have catnip?

While catnip is safe for most cats, it is a known uterine stimulant and should be avoided in pregnant cats.

How to give catnip to a cat:

There are a number of ways to give catnip to your cat.

  • You can grow it in a pot and keep it near a window or in their cat enclosure. They can have a nibble as they see fit.
  • You can dry it out and sprinkle some on the floor for them.
  • You can buy toys with catnip in them. Most pet shops sell toy mice filled with catnip.

How much catnip should I give my cat?

If you are giving him dry catnip, a couple of small pinches will do.

Where can I purchase catnip?

Fresh catnip is sold in most garden centres (nurseries) in the herb section.

Dried catnip can be purchased from any pet store and some veterinary practices. Most pet shops also sell toys containing dried catnip.

Or you can grow fresh and dry it at home.

How to grow catnip:

catnipCatnip is easy to grow. You should be able to purchase the plant from your local garden centre. You can also grow from seed, but the germination rate can be quite low.

It likes light, sandy soil and grows best in full sun. Keep it well watered until it has become established. As the plant is growing, pinch out the top growth tips to promote bushiness. If you are planting it in a garden your cat has access to, make sure there is plenty of adjacent space around the plant so that other plants won’t be damaged if your cat rolls in it.

If you have catnip in a pot for an indoor cat, have several pots growing outdoors so that you can rotate plants regularly.

Harvesting, drying and storing catnip:

You can take leaves from your catnip plant throughout the year. To dry, place in the oven on very low heat or hang upside down in a dry, ventilated area, away from the sun. It should crumble easily when it is ready.

Most pet shops sell catnip toys and/or dried catnip.

When storing catnip, put it in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

Does catnip work on humans?

Catnip doesn't induce a high in humans like it can in cats. It tends to have a sedative effect, instead. As we mentioned above, some claim it induces a high similar to marijuana when smoked.

Interestingly, researchers say that nepetalactone is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, which is the active ingredient in most insect repellents. It was also discovered that catnip repels cockroaches!* Plants aren't alone in containing nepetalactone; some insects and ants also contain it. It's been speculated that this protects them from other insects.

Rats and mice are also believed to have a strong dislike of catnip and will avoid places where it grows.

Culinary uses for catnip:

Catnip is most often drunk as a tea to calm an upset stomach or help with sleep.

Catnip tea recipe:

  • Place 1–2 teaspoons of dried catnip into a cup and add hot (not boiling) water.
  • Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Flavour with honey or lemon (optional).

It can also be used as an aromatic herb in cooking and salads.

Medicinal uses for catnip:

Catnip is useful for settling an upset stomach. It has been used to treat headaches, scarlet fever, coughing, insomnia, and smallpox. It can also be used for cuts, studies show it has a natural healing quality. Crush fresh catnip leaves, damp them and apply to your cut.

Some other medicinal uses for catnip include anaesthetic, antibiotic, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, astringent, calmative, diuretic, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism, chills, cold in the joints, hemorrhoids, toothache.

K’Eogh, in his General Irish Herbal (1735) wrote of catnip, “It provokes urination and menstruation: it expels the stillborn child; it opens obstructions of the lungs and the womb, and is good for internal bruises and shortness of breath. Drunk with salt and honey, it expels worms from the body.

According to The Herb Garden, "The root when chewed is said to make the most gentle person fierce and quarrelsome." In fact, there is a story about an executioner who would have to chew on the root of catnip so he could bring himself to kill.

Pregnant women should avoid catnip, as it can induce uterine contractions.

Big cats getting high on catnip.



Catnip flower courtesy of F D Richards  Cat rolling in catnip courtesy of "T"eresa

Related articles:

Why do cats eat grass?   Cat grass

Updated 11th February 2017.



Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - Everything You Need to Know About Catnip! | General Cat Articles
Cat Breed Profiles
Maine Coon
Affectionately known as coonies, the Maine Coon is the largest breed of domestic cat.
Originally christened the Leopardette, the Bengal cat is a hybridization of domestic cats and Asian Leopard Cats (a small wild cat)
The Ragdoll is an extremely laid back and placid breed of cat whose history dates back to the 1960's with a white female cat named Josephine.
The Burmese cat is a popular breed of cat and for good reason. They are the third most searched breed of cat on this site.
One of, if not the most popular breed, the Persian is one of the oldest known breeds of cat.


Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - Everything You Need to Know About Catnip! | General Cat Articles