Catnip, the Cat Friendly Herb

I have always been a dog person. In my entire life, I had one cat and only for a short time. Fortunately for him and for me, his stay at our home was only temporary and he moved on to bigger and better things after only a few weeks.

Several years ago, when my family was young, we lived in Boston where the winters are very cold and miserable. One freezing day we discovered a raggedy black and white cat on our front porch. He probably had been left behind when his owners moved away. He looked starved and had many cuts and scratches, probably from having been beaten up by other cats.

We took him in, treated his cuts and bruises, fed him and cleaned him up. Soon he morphed into a beautiful black and white cat who my kids named Penguin.

Penguin liked living with us, but our dogs didn’t like him and three of us humans are allergic to cats. So we determined early on, that his stay with us would be temporary. We fortunately found a lovely older woman in the neighborhood, who was happy to take him in.

Mrs. Mac Pherson took special care of Penguin and he became a fine family pet. He soon grew fat and happy in his new home.

Mrs. Mac would walk down to our Village Fish market (we could actually walk to a lovely old village shopping center then, and buy fresh food) and the fish monger would give her fish scraps to add to Penguin’s diet. At our house he only got Meow Mix so he was happy to move on. Penguin found the good life and his forever home.

I thought about Penguin and cats in general the other day, while shopping for my annual herb garden at a Loews’ store here in Tampa. Along with the usual oregano, parsley, basil and rosemary, I noticed Loews’ sells catnip.

I didn’t know anything about catnip except that it was something like a recreational drug for cats and they love it. That you can grow it at home legally sounds interesting. I decided to do a little research and maybe plant some for the cats that come down by the edge of our property and visit, but only if it is safe.

Here are a few fact that I discovered about catnip:

* Catnip is an actual plant, a member of the herb family. It is also a part of the mint family, Nepeta Catar,and grows throughout the United States.

* The active ingredient in catnip is Nepetalactone, an aromatic oil the plant secretes to ward off insects. The odor has a strange fascination for cats.

* Catnip acts as a stimulant for cats, even large cats like tigers and mountain lions. It can be relaxing for humans if brewed in a tea.

* Catnip is a perennial herb and grows up to 3 feet high. It bears lavender flowers in the summer.

* Cats under the influence of catnip will lick, sniff and chew the plant and then shake their heads, roll around and rub their bodies. The effect lasts 5-15 minute and then the cat loses interest.

* Catnip is processed as a powder and used to stuff cat toys.
* Very young or senior cats do not respond to catnip. Due to genetics 10-30% of cats are not affected by catnip.

According to animal experts catnip is not dangerous. Instead it is a very effective kitty treat for most cats. To see Benny the kitten under the influence of catnip see: .


USDA…the National Center for the Protection of Medical Herbs

Personal Experience