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Catnip, the cat's meow

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  by Dwight Bennett

Catnip

Also known as Catmint and Catswort, it has a long history, being recorded as far back as 1712. It is native to Europe, Asia and Africa, but has been firmly established in North America. A member of the mint family, it's effect on house cats is well documented, as well as some large cats such as cougers and bobcats. The active ingredient, nepetalactone, causes temporary euphoria in about 75% of cats, making them play with it, roll on it, paw at it, eat it or lick it. They may purr, leap about, chase imaginary prey, salivate heavily, sleep, or become aggressive. The state is often referred to as euphoric or unbridled ecstasy.
Other names: Nepeta cataria, Cataria, Catnep, Catrup, Cat's Heal All,  Catrup, Cat's-play, Cat's Wort, Catwort, Chi Hsueh Tsao, Field Balm, Field Wort, Garden Nep, Herba Cataria, Herba Catti, Nebada, Nep

Catnip Video The reaction to catnip is a dominant genetic trait. Not all catsrespond, or respond the same. Some breeds from areas without catnip, such as Southeast Asia, do not carry the trait. Additionally, kittens younger than six months old do not respond, nor very old cats.

What Makes it Work
The plant contains a minty smelling oil containing nepetalactone. It must be inhaled, not consumed to be effective. This oil is most heavily concentrated in the buds, but is also in the leaves. As cats chew the flowers and leaves of the live plants, they release the oil. It is non addictive and the effects pass after a short time. Other plants with less effect but similar appeal are honeysuckle or the herb valerian.

How to Use It
Catnip for cats is readily available in stores or online in dry form or oil. Dry mixtures maintain their potency for decades if kept away from sunlight. Simply use your fingers to crush and sprinkle a pinch for your cat to get the juices flowing. It can also be loaded into cloth bags, fake mice or other commercially available toys. Using it in conjunction with scratching posts can help train cats and save furniture, and using it with cat beds can help restrict cat hair around the house. Do not put it in food, it may cause digestive problems. Do not overuse it. Too much frequency will dull its effect. Three or four times a week is good.

Growing It
A member of the mint family and widely used for various purposes, it is available at nurseries and other stores. Full sun, adequate moisture, and reasonable soil in a garden or pot make it a happy plant. It is almost pest-free, other than cats rolling on it and chewing it. It grows wild in parts of the US and Canada. It is a self-seeding perenial growing over three feet in height. Flowers are typically blue and come about mid summer. Live plants are more potent than the store bought mixes. As the season ends, dry and store for use.

Other Uses
Catnip has been used since at least the 15th century by humans for herbal remedies. Prior to the importation of teas from the orient, catnip was commonly used in Europe. Today it may be found in some store bought herbal teas or tisanes. It is claimed to have many health benefits. Nepetalactone has a sedative or calming effect in humans and is said to help relieve stress, anxiety, insomnia and nervousness. It may also relieve colic in babies, cramps, gas, and indigestion. Catnip tea may also offer relief for menstrual pains and cramps. Because of its supposed effects on periods, it is strongly suggested that women who are pregnant or breast feeding not use catnip tea.

Catnip oil has interestingly enough been shown to repel the likes of roaches, termites and Go to paet ads & savemice. It is more than ten times more effective than DEET for repelling mosquitoes, but at this point there is no workable delivery method than maintains its potency.

The Magical Side
Not surprisingly, it has a history with the occult. Catnip is considered a love herb, used in sachets or incense with other love herbs (such as rose petals). It's planet is Venus and it's element is water. The deity associated with Catnip is Bast or Bastet (the Egyptian cat goddess). Love, happiness, beauty and animal contacts may issue forth with its use. It is said to create a psychic bond between you and your cat. Grow it near or in your home to attract good luck.

Resources
- Nepeta (Wikipedia.org)
- Herbal Tea (Wikipedia.org)
- About Cat Nip (eHow.com)