Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their famed effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors. The genus is native to Europe, Asia and Africa, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region east to mainland China. It is now common in North America as a weed. Most of the species are herbaceous perennial plants, but some are annuals. They have sturdy stems with opposite heart-shaped, green to grayish-green leaves. The flowers are white, blue, pink or lilac and occur in several clusters toward the tip of the stems. The flowers are tubular and spotted with tiny purple dots. The scent of the plant has a stimulating effect on cats.
Effects on cats
Both true catnip and Faassen's catnip have a sharp, biting taste, while the taste of giant catmint is bland.
Catnip and catmints are mainly known for the behavioral effects they have on cats, particularly domestic cats. When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, often salivating copiously. Some cats will also growl and meow. This reaction only lasts for a few minutes before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to "reset" after which it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before. Young kittens and older cats are less likely to react to catnip.
Approximately two thirds of cats are susceptible to the behavioral effects of catnip. The phenomenon is hereditary; for example, most cats in Australia are not susceptible to catnip, since Australian cats are drawn from a relatively closed genetic pool. It elicits such a response in only some cats—and it is such a dramatic response—because a genetic element is involved that is enriched in domesticated breeds. There is some disagreement about the susceptibility of lions and tigers to catnip. Some claim that all lions and tigers are affected by catnip, but others say that lions are affected but not tigers. In a recent television documentary released by Animal Planet called Stalking the Jaguar, the scientists on the mission used a form of catnip to attract the elusive jaguar to a camera point for filming. Upon attraction, the wild jaguar reacted in the exact same way that domestic cats react to catnip, suggesting further proof of the genetic existence of the susceptibility to catnip outside of domestic felines.
Catnip contains nepetalactone, a terpene. Nepetalactone can be extracted from catnip using steam distillation. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium and not through their vomeronasal organ. At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone is hypothesized to bind to one or more olfactory receptors where it probably mimics a cat pheromone, such as the hypothetical feline facial pheromone or the cat urine odorant MMB.
Nepeta cataria is a plant in the Lamiaceae family. 'Nepeta cataria or "catnip" or "catmint" is mostly used as a toy for feline enjoyment. Around 2 out of every 3 cats will be affected by the plant, and approximately 2 hours after an exposure, the feline will be ready for another dose. Whether it is growing in the wild or harvested and dried, felines boldly show the effects of the plant. The common behaviors that are observed are: rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, drooling, or consuming much of the plant. It is said that felines go for the smell of the plant more than anything. Felines have such a strong sense of smell that they can detect the chemical nepetalactone, which is the main active ingrediant in Nepeta cataria. This chemical enters the feline's nose, and produces semi-hallucinogenic effects on the cat. Catnip also has potential human benefits; when the leaves are consumed, either in a tea or by some other method, upset stomachs and diarrhea are calmed. Although catnip should not be smoked, it combines well with tobacco and other herbs to provide a "minty" taste.
Nepeta × faassenii is mostly grown as an ornamental plant. This hybrid is far smaller than either of above and is almost a ground cover. It has greyish-green leaves and light purple flowers.
Catnip - Nepeta cataria
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