Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Nepeta cataria L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Catnip, Nepeta cataria L., a perennial herb native to Eurasia and widely naturalized in North America, is well known as an attractant and behavior modifying drug for both domestic and wild members of the cat family. Indeed, the species name cataria is from the latin word for cat, indicating an early recognition of the special attraction of cats to catnip (14.1-3). This erect-growing plant, which can reach a height of one meter, has pubescent leaves and a spike-like inflorescent with purple-spotted white flowers.

The reported life zone of catnip is 7 to 19 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 1.3 meters and a soil pH of 4.9 to 7.5 (4.1-31). The plant thrives in well-drained soils and is commonly considered a weed when growing in gardens of the northeastern United States. The flowering tops, attractive to bees, are harvested during full bloom and allowed to dry in the shade for preservation of color and fragrance. When harvesting catnip for cats, all parts of the plant are utilized.

Catnip contains volatile oils, sterols, acids, and tannins. Specific chemical connpounds include nepetalactone, nepetalic acid, nepetalic anhydride, citral, limonene, dispentine, geraniol, citronella, nerol, -caryophyllene, and valeric acid (11.1-138, 14.1-8). Although now replaced by less expensive synthetic products, the oil from catnip has been used as an attractant scent for baiting, cats and wild animals traps (14.1-8, 14.1-29) due to the nepetalactone.

Catnip has been used for ornamental and culinary purposes and as a domestic folk-medicine remedy. The leaves and shoots have been used in sauces, soups, and stews. Leaves and flowers are used in herbal teas. Medicinally, catnip has been used as an antispasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, nervine, stomachic, stimulant, and mild sedative. The herb has also found use in treatment of diarrhea, colic, the common cold, and cancer (16.1-16). Extract of catnip is reported to exhibit juvenile hormone activity (1.8-162). Smoking catnip can produce a euphoria and visual hallucinations thought to be caused by the nepetalactone content (6.8-54, 11.1-96). Catnip, in combination with Eugenia caryophyllata, and Sassafras albidum, has been used as poultice for aching teeth in the American Ozark Mountains (11.1-96).

Several other Nepeta species are commercially available for use as ornamental and ground-cover plants.

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997