Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial, herbaceous plant that grows to be 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall and wide, which blooms from late spring through 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. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape. The small, bilabiate flowers of N. cataria are pretty and fragrant, and are either pink in color or white with fine spots of pale purple.
Nepeta cataria was one of the many species described by Linnaeus in 1753 in his landmark work Species Plantarum. 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.
Varieties include Nepeta cataria var. citriodora (or N. cataria subsp. citriodora), or "lemon catnip".
The compound iridodial, extracted from catnip oil, has been found to attract lacewings that eat aphids and mites.
As an insect repellent
Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent. Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that, while a more effective spatial repellant than DEET, it is not as effective as a repellent when used on the skin when compared with SS220 or DEET.
Effect on humans
Catnip has a history of use in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. The plant has been consumed as a tisane (tea), juice, tincture, infusion, or poultice, and has also been smoked. However, its medicinal use has fallen out of favor with the development of more commonplace pharmaceutical drugs.
Effects of catnip on most domestic cats include rolling, pawing, and frisking. For cats not biologically affected by catnip, several alternatives exist, including valerian root and leaves, silver vine, and Tatarian honeysuckle wood.
With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for pet cats' enjoyment, 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. Some growl, meow, scratch, or bite at the hand holding it. The main response period after exposure is generally between 5 and 15 minutes, after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in.:p.107
About one-third of cats are not affected by catnip. The behavior is hereditary. Other plants that have a catnip-like effect on cats include valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root and leaves; silver vine (Actinidia polygama), which is also called matatabi, and is the most popular feline attractant in Asia, and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) wood. Many cats that do not respond to catnip do respond to one or more of these three alternatives.
^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).
^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. PMID3834921.
Khan, M.A.; Cameron, M.M.; Loza-Reyes, E. (May 2012). "Interference in foraging behaviour of European and American house dust mites Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae (Acari: Pyroglyphidae) by catmint, Nepeta cataria (Lamiaceae)". Experimental and Applied Acarology. 57 (1): 65–74. doi:10.1007/s10493-012-9532-2. PMID22382713. |access-date= requires |url= (help)