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
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].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997