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Catnip Uses & Its Effects on Kitties

Catnip, also known as catnep, catmint, catrup, catwort, nip, nep, and field balm. Heard of it before? You might associate the pretty herb with the psychoactive effects it has on cats, but catnip has many more uses than for amusement. Find out more about catnip’s uses while you sip on a relaxing cup of catnip tea and watch Fluffy roll in a light dusting of fun.


Posted by bravectosouthafrica - 02 April 2020

What is Catnip?

You may have heard about catnip’s effect on cats or its medicinal uses, but do you know what it is? The feline magic plant is a long-living herb originating from Europe. The catnip plant, with its bright green, toothed leaves and flowering tops, can grow one metre high and become bushy as it matures. Dried leaves and flowering tops from the Nepeta cataria strain make up the medicinal part of the plant.

Catnip has many different uses and can be taken orally, applied to the skin or inhaled. When it’s processed, it can be used as a component of pesticide or insecticide.

The herb is part of the mint family, and it’s just as fragrant due to some of its more volatile molecules. Felines can detect its fragrant perfume from far away. Although catnip has an enjoyable effect, it is harmless and non-addictive. The catnip that affect cats, mammals and insects attracts butterflies with its lovely scent and pollen. The oils also double as an insect repellent.

Close up of the catnip plant

Catnip’s Historical Uses

Catnip has been around for ages, and its uses range from medicinal, flavouring in cooking and brewing to smoking. According to Drug.com, the first documented catnip herbal tea recipe was published in the General Irish Herbal in 1735.

Catnip’s medicinal uses range from inducing sweating to treating indigestion, cramps, the common cold and cancer. Smoking catnip was believed to relieve respiratory ailments and a poultice, containing catnip leaves and flowers, was used to alleviate redness on the skin.

Cat lying on her back looking at the camera in a playful manner

Using Catnip on Cats

Even though cats were not the first receivers of catnip, the adorable side effects have rooted the use of catnip on cats in our history books. We have all but forgotten the traditional medicinal uses as the cute catnip induced state of kitties eclipses the once logical applications of the herb.

Not only are cats susceptible to the volatile oils from the Nepeta cataria, but one whiff will cause odd behaviour in dogs as well. The effects, however, cannot be more different. Cats exhibit a euphoric, relaxed state, while dogs become highly energised and invigorated – not ideal if you’re trying to teach your pet to behave.

Ginger cat staring at the camera

Effects of Catnip on Cats

Catnip, with its fragrant leaves and flowering tops, can, once inhaled, cause various behaviours in a cat, many of these resemble the behaviour of a queen in heat. You may notice any of the following cat behaviours if you’ve given Fluffy catnip: rolling, salivation, jumping, vocalisation and rubbing on catnip. This catnip high can last from 5 to 15 minutes, and afterwards, a cat will be immune to the effects for about half an hour.

Not all cats respond to catnip. Roughly 80 per cent of cats inherit the ability to respond to catnip. If your kitten doesn’t react to the herb, wait until they reach sexual maturity at about six months of age. Cats that are too young won’t be affected by the fragrant plant. Other plants from the mint family might cause a similar reaction in cats that are particularly sensitive to the volatile compounds.

Cat biting a toy dinosaur’s head

Are Catnip Uses Cat-Friendly?

Despite the psychoactive effects it has on felines (and canines), catnip is an entirely safe and non-addictive herb. Over-indulging in the catnip plant could lead to an upset stomach – that’s if kitty eats the leaves instead of inhaling the volatile oils.

Kitties that respond to catnip enjoy the intoxicating effects. But if you give them catnip too often, they will build up their tolerance and lose the ability to react to the herb, regardless of how many good sniffs they take.

Dried catnip leaves and flowers ready for use

Catnip Uses for Humans

The contemporary moniker, ‘catnip’ comes from a cat’s affinity to the plant. But traditionally catnip’s dried flowers and leaves have been used to treat various maladies, whether it’s as a tea or an ointment. The leaves and flowers have a relaxant effect while roots and stems act as a stimulant.

Drinking catnip tea (made from leaves and flowers) could remedy small niggles like headaches, anxiety, insomnia and hives. Ingesting catnip can help treat gastrointestinal problems like lack of appetite, diarrhoea, indigestion and other ailments like the common cold.

Use Catnip to Make Tea

If you have a catnip plant or dried leaves and flowers, you can brew a relaxing cup of catnip tea. Pour boiling water into a cup or teapot and add two teaspoons of dried catnip and let it seep for up to 10 minutes. Add lemon or honey if you prefer a subtler herby taste.

The tea has a woody, fresh grassy taste. But with the addition of lemon, subtle minty aromas will surface. Cooled catnip tea is also particularly tasty.

Little Known Health Benefits of Using Catnip

The calming effects of catnip come from its component nepetalactone, which resembles an ingredient commonly found in valerian, a herbal sedative. This ingredient can promote relaxation and improve moods.

As a diuretic, catnip can also stimulate uterine contraction, which can aid in childbirth.

Cat playing with a paint brush

Catnip Use Safety

Catnip is completely safe, but some people may experience mild side effects from its uses. Catnip may interfere with the body’s natural process of ridding the system of excess lithium. If you’re taking medication or supplements that contain lithium, chat to your doctor to adjust your dose as catnip can interfere with the body’s natural lithium illumination process.

Since the minty plant doubles as a relaxant, it can cause drowsiness. If you’re taking sedatives or other medication that causes sleepiness, drinking catnip tea could make you too drowsy. For this reason, it’s best not to give children catnip tea as they may become excessively sluggish.

Drink catnip tea when you can afford to be sleepy, like at the end of your day instead of at the start of your day. Drinking it in a safe environment also enables you to see how it affects you. But avoid having a cup of catnip tea too close to bedtime as you may experience interrupted sleep due to its diuretic quality.

This same quality may lead to uterine contractions and premature labour in pregnant woman, and exacerbate the symptoms of women with pelvic inflammatory disease.

Headaches and digestive upset may also occur in some instances.

Cat with big eyes sitting with stuffed toys

How Does the Catnip Plant Work?

Catnip’s molecular makeup is the secret behind its psychoactive characteristics. The volatile oil, specifically nepetalactone which makes up to 70-99% of its essential oils, is fragrant and attracts cats from far away in its metabolic form, nepetalic acid. Fluffy can detect and respond to catnip molecules in the air, from as low as a concentration of 1:1011.

Once nepetalic acid enters the nasal tissue of a cat, it attaches to protein receptors which stimulate the olfactory neurons. In turn, several areas in the brain (including the amygdala and hypothalamus) will be led to react to the stimuli. These two sections in the brain control emotional and physical responses as they send out the molecular data to the regions that control behaviour. Neuroendocrine reactions, governed by the hypothalamus, can cause a response that resembles a queen in heat as an artificial pheromone triggers the behaviour.

Planting and shovelling soil

Growing Catnip

You can quickly grow catnip. The common herb makes a lovely addition to a garden. Its light green foliage resembles mint, but it is slightly softer in appearance, and in the flowering season it boasts sprigs of clustered delicate white flowers. Whether you plant catnip for its lovely fragrance, medicinal uses or natural feline entertainment, your garden will undoubtedly get a green boost with the addition.

As the herb is a spirited grower, placing it in a pot with well-drained soil will help to keep it under control. Catnip needs regular watering and a sunny spot to thrive. After its first flowering, the catnip plant needs to be cut down to ensure healthy regrowth and flowering the following season. You can also shape plants to grow neater and denser by pinching their stems while they are still growing.

Since felines who do react to catnip will paw the herb to extract more of its volatile oils, it’s best to keep it out of reach or behind an enclosure of sorts. You can harvest catnip when it is in bloom. Cut off the entire plant, and hang it facing the floor in a dark, well-ventilated room. Once it’s dried, you can store the leaves, flowers and stems separately for different catnip uses. If you want to preserve its psychoactive properties, freeze the leaves to maintain the effectiveness of the oil.

Enjoy playtime with your kitty with peace of mind. Trust Bravecto® with protecting your cat from ticks, fleas and ear mites. One dose of Bravecto® Spot-On for Cats is easy to apply with the Twist’n’Use™ applicator, and lasts for up to 3 months!

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