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Catnip flowers.jpg
Catnip flowers
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Nepeta
N. cataria
Binomial name
Nepeta cataria

Nepeta cataria, commonly known as catnip, catswort, catwort, and catmint, is a species of the genus Nepeta in the family Lamiaceae, native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of China. It is widely naturalized in northern Europe, New Zealand, and North America. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] The common name catmint can also refer to the genus as a whole.


The names catnip and catmint are derived from the intense attraction about two-thirds of cats have toward them (alternative plants exist). [6] [7] In addition to its uses with cats, catnip is a popular ingredient in herbal teas (or tisanes), and is valued for its sedative and relaxant properties. [8] [9]


Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial, herbaceous plant that grows to be 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall and wide, which blooms from late spring through autumn. In appearance, N. cataria resembles a typical member of the mint family of plants, featuring brown-green foliage with the characteristic square stem of the plant family Lamiaceae. [10] The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape. [11] The small, bilabiate flowers of N. cataria are fragrant and are either pink in color or white with fine spots of pale purple. [11]


Nepeta cataria was one of the many species described by Linnaeus in 1753 in his landmark work Species Plantarum . [12] He had previously described it in 1738 as Nepeta floribus interrupte spicatis pedunculatis (meaning "Nepeta with flowers in a stalked, interrupted spike"), before the commencement of Linnaean taxonomy. [13]


Nepeta cataria Sturm24.jpg
Starr 070906-8819 Nepeta cataria.jpg

The plant terpenoid nepetalactone is the main chemical constituent of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria. Nepetalactone can be extracted from catnip by steam distillation. [14]


Nepeta cataria is cultivated as an ornamental plant for use in gardens. It is also grown for its attractant qualities to house cats and butterflies. [11]

The plant is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. It can be a repellent for certain insects, including aphids and squash bugs. [11] Catnip is best grown in full sunlight and grows as a loosely branching, low perennial. [15]

Varieties include Nepeta cataria var. citriodora (or N. cataria subsp. citriodora), or "lemon catnip". [16]

Biological control

The compound iridodial, extracted from catnip oil, has been found to attract lacewings that eat aphids and mites. [17]

As an insect repellent

Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent. [18] [19] Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. [20] [21] Research suggests that, while a more effective spatial repellant than DEET, [22] it is not as effective as a repellent when used on the skin when compared with SS220 or DEET. [23]

Effect on humans

Catnip has a history of use in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. [24] The plant has been consumed as a tisane (tea), juice, tincture, infusion, or poultice, and has also been smoked. [24] However, its medicinal use has fallen out of favor with the development of actual medicine. [24]

Effect on felines

Effects of catnip on most domestic cats include rolling, pawing, and frisking. For cats not biologically affected by catnip, several alternatives exist, including valerian root and leaves, silver vine, and Tatarian honeysuckle wood. Catnip-effects.jpg
Effects of catnip on most domestic cats include rolling, pawing, and frisking. For cats not biologically affected by catnip, several alternatives exist, including valerian root and leaves, silver vine, and Tatarian honeysuckle wood.

Catnip contains the feline attractant nepetalactone. N. cataria (and some other species within the genus Nepeta ) are known for their behavioral effects on the cat family, not only on domestic cats, but also other species. [24] Several tests showed that leopards, cougars, servals, and lynxes often reacted strongly to catnip in a manner similar to domestic cats; while lions and tigers can react strongly as well, they do not react as consistently. [25] [26] [27] [28]

With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for pet cats' enjoyment, and catnip and catnip-laced products designed for use with domesticated cats are available to consumers. Common behaviors cats display when they sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip are rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, pawing at it, licking it, and chewing it. Consuming much of the plant is followed by drooling, sleepiness, anxiety, leaping about, and purring. Some growl, meow, scratch, or bite at the hand holding it. [29] [30] The main response period after exposure is generally between 5 and 15 minutes, after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in. [31] :p.107

Cats detect nepetalactone through their olfactory epithelium, not through their vomeronasal organ. [32] At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptors.

Felines not affected by catnip

About one-third of cats are not affected by catnip. [6] [7] [24] [33] The behavior is hereditary. Other plants that have a catnip-like effect on cats include valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root and leaves; silver vine ( Actinidia polygama ), or matatabi, popular in Asia; and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) wood. Many cats that do not respond to catnip do respond to one or more of these three alternatives. [6] [7]

A 1962 pedigree analysis of 26 cats in a Siamese breeding colony suggested that the catnip response was caused by a Mendelian-dominant gene, but a 2011 pedigree analysis of 210 cats in two breeding colonies (taking into account measurement error by repeated testing) showed no evidence for Mendelian patterns of inheritance but demonstrated heritabilities of h2 = 0.51–0.89 for catnip response behavior, indicating a polygenic liability threshold model. [24] [34] [35]

Related Research Articles

<i>Nepeta</i> Genus of flowering plants, known for effect on cats (catnip) in the mint family (Lamiaceae)

Nepeta is a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The genus name is reportedly in reference to Nepete, an ancient Etruscan city. There are about 250 species.

Valerian (herb) species of flowering plant in the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae

Valerian is a perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. In the summer when the mature plant may have a height of 1.5 metres (5 ft), it bears sweetly scented pink or white flowers that attract many fly species, especially hoverflies of the genus Eristalis. It is consumed as food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the grey pug.

Nepetalactone chemical compound

Nepetalactone is an organic compound, first isolated from the plant catnip, which acts as a cat attractant. Nepetalactone is a bicyclic monoterpenoid, a ten-carbon compound derived from isoprene with two fused rings: a cyclopentane and a lactone. It belongs to the class of iridoids. The structure and the effects of the compound are similar to those of valepotriates. A number of isomers of nepetalactone are known.

DEET Chemical compound

N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, also called DEET or diethyltoluamide, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. It is a slightly yellow oil intended to be applied to the skin or to clothing and provides protection against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, leeches and many biting insects.

Citronella oil essential oil

Citronella oil is an essential oil obtained from the leaves and stems of different species of Cymbopogon (lemongrass). The oil is used extensively as a source of perfumery chemicals such as citronellal, citronellol, and geraniol. These chemicals find extensive use in soap, candles and incense, perfumery, cosmetic, and flavouring industries throughout the world. Citronella oil is also a plant-based insect repellent and has been registered for this use in the United States since 1948. The United States Environmental Protection Agency considers oil of citronella as a biopesticide with a non-toxic mode of action.

Sandfly Name of several types of blood-sucking fly

Sandfly is a colloquial name for any species or genus of flying, biting, blood-sucking dipteran (fly) encountered in sandy areas. In the United States, sandfly may refer to certain horse flies that are also known as "greenheads", or to members of the family Ceratopogonidae. Outside the United States, sandfly may refer to members of the subfamily Phlebotominae within the Psychodidae. Biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) are sometimes called sandflies or no-see-ums. New Zealand sandflies are in the genus Austrosimulium, a type of black fly.

Insect repellent Substance which repels insects

An insect repellent is a substance applied to skin, clothing, or other surfaces which discourages insects from landing or climbing on that surface. Insect repellents help prevent and control the outbreak of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, dengue fever, bubonic plague, river blindness and West Nile fever. Pest animals commonly serving as vectors for disease include insects such as flea, fly, and mosquito; and the arachnid tick.

Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is a species in the family Lamiaceae (mint).

Icaridin, also known as picaridin, is an insect repellent which can be used directly on skin or clothing. It has broad efficacy against various insects and ticks and is almost colorless and odorless.

<i>Schizonepeta</i> genus of plants

Schizonepeta is a genus of herbs. It should not be confused with the true catnips of the genus Nepeta known for their euphoria-inducing effect on domestic cats.

2-Undecanone, also known as methyl nonyl ketone and IBI-246, is the organic compound with the formula CH3C(O)C9H19. It a colorless oil. It is usually produced synthetically, but it can also be extracted from various plant sources ,including from essential oil of rue. It is found naturally in bananas, cloves, ginger, guava, strawberries, wild-grown tomatoes, and the perennial leaf vegetable Houttuynia cordata.

Cat pheromones are pheromones that are used by cats and other felids for cat communication.

1-Octen-3-ol chemical compound

1-Octen-3-ol, octenol for short and also known as mushroom alcohol, is a chemical that attracts biting insects such as mosquitoes. It is contained in human breath and sweat, and it was once believed that insect repellent DEET worked by blocking the insects' octenol odorant receptors. Recent evidence in Anopheles gambiae and Culex quequinfasciatius mosquitoes suggest DEET reduces the volatility of 1-octen-3-ol which can result in a reduction in human attraction. 1-Octen-3-ol is a secondary alcohol derived from 1-octene. It exists in the form of two enantiomers, (R)-(–)-1-octen-3-ol and (S)-(+)-1-octen-3-ol.

<i>Actinidia polygama</i> Species of plant

Actinidia polygama is a species of kiwifruit in the Actinidiaceae family. It grows in the mountainous areas of Japan and China at elevations between 500 and 1,900 metres.

Leslie B. Vosshall American neurobiologist

Leslie Birgit Vosshall, Ph.D., is an American neurobiologist and currently an HHMI Investigator and the Robin Chemers Neustein Professor of Neurogenetics and Behavior at The Rockefeller University. She is also the director of the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University. She is well known for her contributions to the field of olfaction, particularly for the discovery and subsequent characterization of the insect olfactory receptor family, and to the genetic basis of chemosensory behavior in mosquitoes and humans.

Trombiculosis mite infestation that involves rash caused by Leptotrombidium deliense

Trombiculosis, is a rash caused by trombiculid mites which is often referred to as a chigger bite.

VUAA1 chemical compound

VUAA1 is a chemical compound that works by over activating an insect's olfactory senses causing a repellent effect. It is considered to be an Orco allosteric agonist. It was discovered at Vanderbilt University with research being partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Callicarpenal chemical compound

Callicarpenal is a terpenoid that has been isolated from plants of the genus Callicarpa (beautyberry). It acts as an insect repellent against mosquitoes and fire ants. It also has activity against ticks.

<i>Nepeta racemosa</i> species of plant

Nepeta racemosa, the dwarf catnip or raceme catnip, syn. N. mussiniii, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to the Caucasus, Turkey and northern Iran. Growing to 30 cm (12 in) tall by 45 cm (18 in) wide, it is a herbaceous perennial with aromatic leaves and violet or lilac-blue flowers in summer.

<i>Nepeta grandiflora</i> species of plant

Nepeta grandiflora is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to the Caucasus. Growing to 75 cm (30 in) tall by 30 cm (12 in), it is a clump-forming, erect deciduous herbaceous perennial with aromatic, slightly hairy, grey-green leaves, and spikes of purple/blue flowers in early summer. Species of Nepeta are called catnip or catmint, with reference to their reported effect on some domestic cats. The plants seem to induce a euphoria in the animals, causing them to roll in the foliage and exhibit signs of intoxication.


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Further reading