Catnip flowers
Scientific classification Edit this classification
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 it (alternatives exist, such as valerian root and leaves).[6][7] Catnip is also an ingredient in some herbal teas (or tisanes), and is valued for its sedative and relaxant properties.[8]


Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial, herbaceous plant that grows to be 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall and wide, and that blooms from late spring to 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.[9] The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape.[10] The small, bilabiate flowers of N. cataria are fragrant and are either pink in colour or white with fine spots of pale purple.[10]


Nepeta cataria was one of the many species described by Linnaeus in 1753 in his landmark work Species Plantarum.[11] 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.[12]


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.[13]


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.[10]

The plant is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. It can be a repellent for certain insects, including aphids and squash bugs.[10] Catnip is best grown in full sunlight and grows as a loosely branching, low perennial.[14]

Varieties include Nepeta cataria var. citriodora (or N. cataria subsp. citriodora), or "lemon catnip",[15] named after its lemon-scented leaves.[16]

Biological control

The iridoid that is deposited on cats who have rubbed themselves against the plants and scratched the surfaces of catnip and silver vine (Actinidia polygama) leaves repels mosquitoes.[17] The compound iridodial, an iridoid extracted from catnip oil, has been found to attract lacewings that eat aphids and mites.[18]

As an insect repellent

Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent.[19][20] Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches, and termites.[21][22] Research suggests that, while a more effective spatial repellant than DEET,[23] when compared with SS220 or DEET, it is not so effective as a repellent as it is when used on the skin of humans.[24]

Effect of ingestion on humans

Catnip has a history of use in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments such as stomach cramps, indigestion, fevers, hives, and nervous conditions.[25] The plant has been consumed as a tisane, juice, tincture, infusion, or poultice, and has also been smoked.[25] However, its medicinal use has fallen out of favor with the development of modern medicine.[25]

Effect on felines

See also: Cat pheromone § Cat attractants

Effects of catnip on most domestic cats include rolling, pawing, and frisking. For cats not biologically affected by catnip, other plants which may trigger a response include 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.[25] Several tests showed that leopards, cougars, servals, and lynxes often reacted strongly to catnip in a manner similar to domestic cats. Lions and tigers may react strongly as well, but they do not react consistently in the same fashion.[26][27][28][29]

With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for the enjoyment of pet cats, 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.[30] Some growl, meow, scratch, or bite at the hand holding it.[31][32] The main response period after exposure is generally between 5 and 15 minutes, after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in;[33]: p.107  However, about one-third of cats are not affected by catnip.[6][7][25][34] The behavior is hereditary.[35]

Cats detect nepetalactone through their olfactory epithelium, not through their vomeronasal organ.[36] At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptors.

A 1962 pedigree analysis of 26 cats in a Siamese breeding colony suggested that the catnip response was caused by a Mendelian-dominant gene. 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.[25][37][38]

A study published in January 2021 suggests that felines are specifically attracted to the iridoids nepetalactone and nepetalactol, present in catnip and silver vine, respectively.[39]

Felines not affected by catnip

Cats younger than six months might not exhibit behavioral change to catnip.[40] Up to a third of cats are genetically immune to catnip effects but may respond to and enjoy catnip alternatives such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root and leaves; silver vine or matatabi (Actinidia polygama), popular in Asia; and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) wood.[6][7]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Nepeta cataria". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 7 April 2008.
  2. ^ World Checklist of Selected Plant Families: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  3. ^ Flora of China Vol. 17 p. 107 荆芥属 jing jie shu Nepeta Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 570. 1753.
  4. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, genere Nepeta includes photos plus range maps for Europe and North America
  5. ^ Wilson, Julia. "Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Everything You Need to Know About Catnip!". Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Bol, Sebastiaan (16 March 2017). "Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria)". BMC Veterinary Research. 13 (1): 70. doi:10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6. PMC 5356310. PMID 28302120.
  7. ^ a b c "Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Everything You Need to Know About Catnip!". Cat World. 2014. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  8. ^ Grognet, Jeff (1990). "Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present". The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 31 (6): 455–456. PMC 1480656. PMID 17423611.
  9. ^ "UW-Stevens Point Freckmann Herbarium: Family Genera". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d Missouri Botanical Garden: Nepeta cataria (Catmint) . Retrieved 1 October 2013
  11. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1753). "Tomus II". Species Plantarum (in Latin). Vol. 2. Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii. p. 570.
  12. ^ Spencer, Roger; Cross, Rob; Lumley, Peter (2007). "Latin names, the binomial system and plant classification". Plant Names: a Guide to Botanical Nomenclature (3rd ed.). CSIRO Publishing. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9780643099456.
  13. ^ "DIY Kitty Crack: ultra-potent catnip extract". Instructables. 3 June 2007. Archived from the original on 12 July 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  14. ^ "Growing Catnip – Bonnie Plants". Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  15. ^ Keville, Kathi (2016). The Aromatherapy Garden: Growing Fragrant Plants for Happiness and Well-Being (illustrated ed.). Timber Press. p. 133. ISBN 9781604695496.
  16. ^ "Nepeta cataria var. citriodora | lemon catmint Herbaceous Perennial". RHS Gardening.
  17. ^ Uenoyama, Reiko; Miyazaki, Tamako; Adachi, Masaatsu; Nishikawa, Toshio; Hurst, Jane L.; Miyazaki, Masao (14 June 2022). "Domestic cat damage to plant leaves containing iridoids enhances chemical repellency to pests". iScience. 25 (7). Bibcode:2022iSci...25j4455U. doi:10.1016/j.isci.2022.104455. PMC 9308154. PMID 35880027.
  18. ^ Bliss, Rosalie Marion (May–June 2007). "A Natural Insect Attractant from Catnip". Agricultural Research. US Government Printing Office. 55 (5): 7. ISSN 0002-161X – via EBSCO.
  19. ^ Kingsley, Danny (3 September 2001). "Catnip sends mozzies flying". ABC Science Online. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  20. ^ Junwei J. Zhu, Christopher A. Dunlap, Robert W. Behle, Dennis R. Berkebile, Brian Wienhold. (2010). Repellency of a wax-based catnip-oil formulation against stable flies. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58 (23): 12320–12326 (8 Nov 2010, doi:10.1021/jf102811k).
  21. ^ Schultz, Gretchen; Peterson, Chris; Coats, Joel (2006). "Natural Insect Repellents: Activity against Mosquitoes and Cockroaches" (PDF). In Rimando, Agnes M.; Duke, Stephen O. (eds.). Natural Products for Pest Management. ACS Symposium Series. American Chemical Society.
  22. ^ "Termites Repelled by Catnip Oil". Southern Research Station, United States Department of Agriculture – Forest Service. 26 March 2003.
  23. ^ "Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEE". Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  24. ^ Chauhan, K. R.; Klun, Jerome A.; Debboun, Mustapha; Kramer, Matthew (2005). "Feeding Deterrent Effects of Catnip Oil Components Compared with Two Synthetic Amides Against Aedes aegypti". Journal of Medical Entomology. 42 (4): 643–646. doi:10.1603/0022-2585(2005)042[0643:FDEOCO]2.0.CO;2. PMID 16119554. S2CID 13711455. Archived from the original on 29 March 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Grognet, J. (June 1990). "Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present". The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 31 (6): 455–456. PMC 1480656. PMID 17423611.
  26. ^ Reader's Digest: Does Catnip "Work" On Big Cats Like Lions And Tigers? Accessed 22 May 2015
  27. ^ Poole, Chris (2 August 2010). Q: Do Tigers Like Catnip?. Big Cat Rescue. Archived from the original on 3 November 2021. Retrieved 2 January 2015 – via YouTube.
  28. ^ Poole, Chris (19 March 2013). Q: Do Tigers Like Catnip? Part 2. Big Cat Rescue. Archived from the original on 3 November 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2015 – via YouTube.
  29. ^ Durand, Marcella (4 March 2003). "Heavenly Catnip". Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  30. ^ "Catnip Overdose or Something More Serious? - TheCatSpace". 27 February 2023. Retrieved 15 July 2023.
  31. ^ Becker, Marty; Spadafori, Gina (2006). Why Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet? 101 of the Most Perplexing Questions Answered About Feline Unfathomables, Medical Mysteries and Befuddling Behaviors. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications. ISBN 0757305733.
  32. ^ Spadafori, Gina (2006). "Here, Boy!". Universal Press Syndicate. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  33. ^ Moore, Arden (2007). The Cat Behavior Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask. Storey. ISBN 9781603421799. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  34. ^ Turner, Ramona (29 May 2007). "How does catnip work its magic on cats?". Scientific American. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  35. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (12 September 2014). "How catnip gets your cat high". Vox. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  36. ^ Hart, Benjamin L.; Leedy, Mitzi G. (July 1985). "Analysis of the catnip reaction: mediation by olfactory system, not vomeronasal organ". Behavioral and Neural Biology. 44 (1): 38–46. doi:10.1016/S0163-1047(85)91151-3. PMID 3834921.
  37. ^ Todd 1962, "Inheritance of the catnip response in domestic cats"
  38. ^ Villani 2011, "Heritability and Characteristics of Catnip Response in Two Domestic Cat Populations"
  39. ^ Moutinho, Sofia (20 January 2021). "Why cats are crazy for catnip". Science. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  40. ^ "Crazy for catnip". Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved 11 October 2023.

Further reading