Exploring The Mysteries Of The Catnip Plant

  • By: Succulents Plants
  • Date: December 12, 2022
  • Time to read: 10 min.
Catnip Plant
Photo by courtesy of Nahhan

Have you ever noticed your cat behaving strangely when presented with a catnip plant? Maybe it’s rolling around, drooling, meowing, purring with delight, or even becoming more active and playful. If so, you’ve seen firsthand the mysterious effects of the catnip plant. This article explores the catnip plant’s history, products, and use and how it affects cats in all peculiar and exciting ways.

What is Catnip?

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta Cataria, is a perennial herb of the mint family. The catnip plant originates from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe but is now found worldwide. Catnip is easily recognized by its grey-green foliage and white or light purple flower clusters. Its scent and flavor have earned it the nickname “catmint.”

The active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, is an essential oil found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant. In cats, this compound triggers a response in the brain that causes a pleasurable reaction. When cats sniff the nepetalactone in catnip, they often display behaviors such as rolling, drooling, meowing, purring, rubbing, and jumping. While many cats are affected, not all cats will experience the same response. Kittens are typically unresponsive to catnip until three to six months.

In addition to being enjoyed by cats, the catnip plant is edible and has a long history of being used as a culinary ingredient and medicinal herb. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, often used to make tea. The catnip plant contains vitamins and minerals, such as thiamin, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. Additionally, it has been used to treat various ailments, ranging from headaches and indigestion to insomnia and anxiety.

History of Catnip

Looking back through the ages, catnip has been cats’ favorite for centuries. Though it is not known precisely when cats were first drawn to the unique herb, it is believed to have been used as a medicinal herb for humans and cats for more than two thousand years. Catnip has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, suggesting that even the Pharaohs were aware of its special powers.

In the Middle Ages, the properties of catnip were well known to ordinary people, and the plant was used to soothe the digestive system of humans and cats alike. In England, catnip was listed among the simples (medicines) of the time that could be used to treat various ailments.

It was in the 18th century that researchers began to understand and isolate the active compound in catnip that gives cats their unique behavior. The combination of nepetalactone was found to be responsible for the cats’ response to the plant and is still used today in various cat toys and repellents.

Today, catnip can be found in pet stores and garden centers and grown at home as a novelty plant. Though its effects may not be as mysterious as they were in ancient times, it still plays a vital role in many cats’ lives and may even have some beneficial effects on humans. And whether you have a furry friend or not, you can still appreciate the long, rich history of the catnip plant!

Early Use

It’s unclear precisely what role it played in early history, but it’s believed that many cultures used catnip for medicinal and recreational purposes. In ancient times, folk healers used to mix catnip with other herbs to make teas and potions for ailments such as headaches, fevers, and even back pain. Catnip was also believed to have spiritual properties, with some cultures believing it could induce visions.

The earliest recorded use of catnip dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it as an aphrodisiac and a relaxation aid. It was also used to treat anxiety and insomnia. The Romans and Greeks also had a fondness for the plant, using it to aid digestion. The Chinese believed that consuming catnip could help keep away evil spirits.

Nowadays, catnip is still widely used as a medicine, with some believing it has many health benefits. It is also a popular addition to tea and herbal remedies. It is not uncommon for cats to enjoy eating catnip, though it is important to remember that it should not be overfed to cats as it can be toxic in large amounts. While the reasons why cats crave catnip remain a mystery, it is believed that cats are attracted to the plant’s chemical compounds called Nepetalactone.

The exact origins of the catnip plant remain a mystery, but its long history of use provides a fascinating insight into the mysterious plant. From its widespread use as a medicine to its more modern-day role as an entertainment source for cats, the catnip plant will remain a source of fascination for many years.

Modern Use

These days, folks aren’t just scratching the surface of catnip plant usage! Modern use of catnip has expanded beyond just cats, as it can be used in teas, sprays, and more. Catnip products are abundant on the market, and some of the most popular include natural sprays and rubs, cat toys, and seasoned cat food treats.

The sprays and rubs are made from essential oils and can calm anxious cats, reduce stress, and even repel pesky insects. Rubbing catnip onto a scratching post can also help encourage cats to use these objects instead of furniture. Meanwhile, catnip-filled toys provide cats a way to play and interact with their owners. Catnip-seasoned cat food treats can also make mealtime more fun.

Many pet owners are now turning to catnip products to help improve their cats’ lives. These products can provide hours of entertainment, help relax cats, and even make them more willing to take their medicine. So if you’re looking for a way to make your pet’s life more enjoyable, why not consider adding a bit of catnip to the mix?

How do Cats React to Catnip?

Cats have been known to respond to catnip with behavior that ranges from mild to wild! When a cat smells catnip, it can cause a wide range of responses, from purring to chattering, rubbing, rolling, and even drooling. This reaction is caused by a compound in the catnip plant called nepetalactone, which has a mild sedative and stimulating effect on cats. It’s believed that cats can detect the scent of nepetalactone from up to 50 yards away, and when they do, they can become very excited.

But not all cats respond to catnip in the same way. Studies have found that approximately two-thirds of cats are sensitive to the plant, while the rest are unaffected. Cats must have a gene inherited from their parents for catnip to have any effect. This means that even if one cat in the family is sensitive to catnip, the others may not be.

Furthermore, not all cats react to catnip in the same way. Some cats may become hyperactive and engage in vigorous running, jumping, and play when exposed to it; others may take a more relaxed approach, such as rolling around or rubbing against it. When exposed to catnip, some cats will even drool, purr, meow, and chirp. Some might become aggressive and hiss or growl when the catnip is taken away, while others might sit back and relax.

Physical Reactions

Cats exposed to catnip can go through various reactions, from calm and relaxed to highly energetic and playful. In most cases, the response to catnip is short-lived, lasting just a few minutes before the effects wear off.

It’s thought that the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, is behind the physical changes in cats exposed to it. When cats smell this substance, it triggers a response in their brain, activating regions that have a stimulating effect. This can cause cats to become more energetic but also more relaxed.

Regarding physical reactions, cats can exhibit a wide range of behaviors. Some cats may jump around excitedly, roll around on the floor, meow a lot, or even become more affectionate with their owners. Other cats may become more alert and even rub their faces against the catnip plant.

It’s important to note that not all cats react to catnip. Some cats are entirely immune to the effects of catnip, while others may only show mild reactions. This is why it’s essential to observe your cat’s behavior when exposed to catnip and use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to offer it to your pet.

Behavioral Reactions

When we talk about catnip plants, it’s usually about the crazy, odd, and often hilarious reactions our feline friends have when they come in contact with it. But what is it about the catnip plant that makes cats go bonkers? The effects of catnip on cats are a mystery that scientists are still trying to unravel.

So why does catnip have such a strange effect on cats? Well, it’s all in the volatile oils released when catnip is crushed or bruised. This oil contains a compound called nepetalactone, which cats’ sensitive noses can pick up. Once it’s inhaled, the cats will start to become affected by the mix, and their reactions can vary.

One of the most common reactions to catnip is a burst of energy. Cats are active, running, rolling, and jumping in the air. They may also become more vocal, meowing, purring, and chirping. However, some cats may become very mellow and relaxed after exposure to catnip.

But it’s not just cats that can be affected by the catnip plant. A study by the University of Utah showed that when humans inhaled nepetalactone, the same compound cats are affected by, it released brainwave activity associated with pleasure. So just like cats, humans can experience some of the same effects from this powerful plant.

Whether it’s cats, humans, or other animals, the catnip plant can make everyone act a bit crazy. So if you’re looking to have some fun with your feline friends, it might be worth looking into this powerful plant.

How Does Catnip Work?

In recent years, scientists have been exploring the mysteries behind this fascinating phenomenon. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how a catnip plant works and its effects on cats.

It all has to do with a compound known as nepetalactone. This compound is a volatile oil found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant. When cats sniff it, it binds to particular receptors in their noses and triggers a cascade of biological reactions.

In addition to its effects on cats, the nepetalactone compound has also been found to repel insects and other pests. This makes the catnip plant an excellent natural insect repellent and can be used to deter pests from gardens and other areas.

Other Plants with Similar Effects

As we’ve discussed, the catnip plant (Nepeta cataria) is a common herb that many cats can’t resist. The active ingredient nepetalactone produces an effect similar to catnip, and these plants have been used to entice cats for centuries.

But did you know that the catnip plant isn’t the only one with similar effects? Several other plants in the same Nepeta family and outside of it have narcotic-like impacts on cats. Here are some of the other plants that can entice cats:


If you’ve ever seen cats rolling around in your garden or meowing at night, they could be attracted to the unique aroma of Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Valerian has been used in human medicine for centuries, but its effects on cats must be better studied.

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama):

This Japanese plant has long been used to treat colds and digestive problems in humans and can also be an entertaining source of catnip. Cats love the unique scent of the silver vine, and it’s known to create an even more intense reaction than traditional catnip.

Cat thyme (Teucrium marum):

Also known as marum or marjoram, this low-maintenance herb can be found in many gardens. It’s known to have a strong, pungent odor and can be used as a fun way to draw cats in for playtime.

Rue (Ruta graveolens):

This Mediterranean shrub is sometimes used in cooking, but cats love it for its sweet scent and intense reaction. Rue has been known to create a much harsher response than other catnip plants, so it might not be the best choice for cats prone to hyperactivity.

These are just a few of the plants that cats find attractive. Cats find many more plants irresistible, from catmint to lemon balm. So if your cat isn’t responding to traditional catnip, consider introducing them to some of these alternatives!


Catnip is one of the most mysterious plants, causing wild and intense reactions in cats of all shapes and sizes. Most likely coming from a combination of physical and behavioral effects, cats are drawn to the plant in a unique way. Although the exact mechanism behind how catnip works are still uncertain, it can be judged based on the dramatic changes it induces in cats that it probably has something to do with a chemical response.

Finally, it can be concluded that catnip remains one of the biggest mysteries of the animal world. It is fascinating to observe how cats react to it, and it is a testament to the power of nature that such an innocuous plant can cause intense reactions in cats. Although the actual cause of its effects is still unknown, the joy it brings to our cats is undoubtedly undeniable.


Latest Articles:

The Chinese Money Plant: A Unique And Fascinating Plant

How To Grow And Care For Sage Plants

Growing Tips: How To Propagate Succulents


Chinese Money Plant

Previous Post

The Chinese Money Plant: A Unique And Fascinating Plant

Next Post

Growing Your Own Bamboo Plant: A Beginner’s Guide

Bamboo Plants