Catnip ~ Nepeta cataria
Other names: Catmint – catwort
Binomial name: Nepeta cataria L.
Origin: Europe and Asia, naturalized in New Zeland and North America
Nepeta cataria is a widespread species, part of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and extensively studied for the interesting proprieties of its chemical compounds.
The names Catnip or Catmint come from the strong attraction that many cats have for this group of plants. Around 70% of them(1) are attracted by Nepeta cataria, stimulating playful actions such as rolling over, cheek rubbing, and pawing.
There are several species and subspecies belonging to the genus Nepeta, those, sharing different quantities of alkaloids, terpenes and flavonoids. The most famous compounds are the Nepetalactones, monoterpenes synthesized by several plants, mainly to protect themself from herbivorous insects(2).
Nepetalactone is also a mimic of the cat pheromones(3), which could explain the attraction of felines to Catnip.
- Attractive for ca 70% of cats and other felines like lions, tigers, and ocelots.
- Repelent for herbivorous insect and mosquitos
- Large production of pollen and nectar, suitable for beekeeping(4)
- Widely used in traditional medicine
Cats and Catnip
Catnip and stress reduction
Catnip and other plants containing Nepelactone are used to stimulate cats and reduce stress. Indoor cats can become bored and stressed, and lately, they could start to show aggressive behavior or physical disease.
Olfactory stimulation is a great way to keep cats active and motivated. Do you ever notice that our cat likes to smell shoes, grocery bags, backpack, and everything that come from outside the house door? That’s because cats are curious and full of energy and if they don’t have the chance to roam around outside, we have to compensate for the lack of stimulation and ensure them a high quality of life.
Effect of catnip on cat
Catnip turns out attractive for 2 cats on 3, is not clear yet why some cats are indifferent to it. Typical behaviors are: chewing, pawing, head shaking, cheek-rubbing, and repetitively rolling over the vegetal material.
Seems that Catnip stimulates pleasure-behavior(5) and (apparently) euphoria(6) in cats, with different durations and intensities.
“One of these plants is catnip, which produces allomones that happen to have an apparently euphoric effect on cats, including the big cats. This effect is quite rare in animals, and could be used to improve the quality of cats’ lives. The effect of catnip is caused exclusively by its smell rather than its taste. Typically, cats respond to catnip by sniffing, licking and biting it, shaking, their head, rubbing their head, chin or cheeks against it, and rolling over, sometimes accompanied by drooling and kicking the
material with their hind feet.
This behavioral response is not sexual, and catnip is generally believed to be neither addicting nor harmful. Unfortunately, approximately one out of every three domestic cats does not respond to catnip. Furthermore, whereas lions, jaguars, leopards and snow leopards appear to be sensitive to catnip, most tigers do not respond to it.”
“The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter”
Protection against mosquitos
The typical response of cats exposed to catnip is rolling The typical cheek-rubbing of the vegetal material. Those actions are particularly important since some compounds (Nepetalactone-s) contained in Nepeta cataria act as insect-repellent for the mosquitos and other insects. Cats roll over the plant covering the coat with the volatile compounds present in leaves, stems, and flowers. According to research(5), the mosquitos are less inclined to land where Nepetalactone(s) is present. This results advantageous since the mosquitos are vectors of a large variety of diseases.
Why do some insects show repulsion for those compounds? Seems that the key is the receptor TRPA1 carried from several species of insects.
“Our results suggest that, in Drosophila, Aedes, and likely many other insect species, the strong aversive effects of catnip are largely mediated by the activation of the conserved irritant receptor TRPA1 by iridoids. Insect repellents have been traditionally thought to activate (or interfere with) insect olfactory and/or gustatory transduction cascades, but our results add to a body of evidence suggesting that plant defensive compounds also target the invertebrate irritant receptor TRPA1”.
Not all insects are disturbed by Catnip. Aphids are old enemies of gardener and green-amateur, and unfortunately, the Nepetalactone shows a chemical composition very close to the aphids’ pheromones:
Indeed, not even all insects are repelled by catnip. The soybean aphid (Aphis glycines), for example, uses Z,E-nepetalactone as a pheromone component,46 and green lacewings (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) are attracted to this compound, perhaps because their larvae feed on aphids.47 Aphids are indeed also well-known pests on catnip.“The irritant receptor TRPA1 mediatesthe mosquito repellent effect of catnip”
Sou are take into consideration to grow Catnip yourself is important to keep in mind what was just said above! Aphids can infest a large variety of plants and is very hard to get rid of them without using pesticides.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23–AD 79) mentions many medicinal uses of Nepeta cataria in his Naturalis Historia, representing one of the oldest evidence of its use. Nepeta cataria has a worldwide distribution and many cultures from Europe to Asia (and lately also America) have incorporated this plant in their traditional medicine.
In developing countries, the majority of the population still uses traditional folk remedies obtained from medicinal plants. N. cataria has a long history of being used in traditional medicine as well as being used daily as seasoning, tea as soporific and sedative (headaches, pain relief, convulsions) and against gastrointestinal (stomach upsets, diarrhea, vomiting) and respiratory diseases (colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sore throats, pneumonia). It has been used to induce sweating (fever) and to treat female disorders (emenagogue) and rheumatism.Plant and Human Health, Vol 3. Springer Nature – Switzerland 2019
Traditionally, the plant has been used as a remedy for fever, cold, cough, stomach problems, diarrhea, sore throats, headaches, pneumonia, female problems, blood disorders, convulsions, rheumatism, and toothache. Further, leaves and flowering tops have acted as antispasmodic, carminative, stimulant, sedative, emmenagogue, and antiseptic. Furthermore, medicinally herbalists used this plant for the treatment of feverish cold, measles, chickenpox, period problems, nervousness, insomnia, and hypertensionPharmacology and Toxicology of Nepeta cataria (Catmint) Species of Genus Nepeta: A Review – Sharma et al. 2019
Catnip (Kattenkruid) – Nepeta cataria
Nepeta cataria, relaxing herb for cats. Kattenkruid.
- Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, 612 Wilson Road, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
- The evolutionary origins of the cat attractant nepetalactone in catnip, Benjamin R. LichmanGrant T. GoddenJohn P. et al.
- Nepeta cataria medicinal plant of interest in phytotherapy and beekeeping. Duda, S.; Marghitas, L.; Dezmirean, D.; Bobis, O.; Duda, M. – Hop Med Plants. 2014, 22, 34-38 .
- Effect of Drugs on Catnip (N epeta cataria) Induced Pleasure Behavior in Cats R. C. Hatch, D.V.M., Ph.D.
- Ellis SLH, Wells DL. The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2010;123(1–2):56–62.
- The irritant receptor TRPA1 mediates the mosquito repellent effect of catnip -Nadia Melo, Matthew Capek, Oscar M. Arenas et al.