Catnip herb (also known as nepeta cataria, catswort or catmint) is a species of the genus nepeta that belongs to the mint family and is native to Europe and Asia. Nepeta is believed to derive from the town of Nepete in Italy, whilst cataria is generally thought to have come from the Latin word for “cat”. The common name catmint refers to the genus as a whole. Catnip is used by feline owners all over the globe to give their cats some ‘kitty bliss’, but it is also used as an ingredient in some herbal teas, and is valued for its supposed sedative and relaxant properties.
Catnip contains nepetalactone, which is known to have behavioural effects on cats. This substance can cause some cats to become aggressively playful, while others will become mellow and calm.
Aside from being an ornamental plant for the garden, dried catnip is a herb that can be added to foods for flavour, used as a herbal supplement and brewed into tea. It was used in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, but this ingredient has fallen out of favour with the advancement of modern medicine.
It is believed that ancient Egyptians were some of the first to give catnip to felines – given their love of cats!, but catnip herb has long been a highly regarded ingredient in cooking and herbal medicines for both people and cats alike. This dates all the way back to the Middle Ages (when it was referred to as catmint). People would often self-medicate with the herb to make unpleasant tasks that little bit easier. The herb was also used as a sedative for children, and believed to cure scabies, sleep problems and headaches.
Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip – a volatile oil which is found in the stems and leaves of the plant. It was first discovered in 1941 at the University of Wisconsin to be a cat attractant. It’s been hypothesised that about two-thirds of cats are highly susceptible to nepetalactone.
Nowadays, catnip is most frequently used by cat owners. It typically causes intense attraction in cats when they catch a sniff, so catnip herb will be grown or purchased by cat owners to be administered as a cat plaything. The dried herbs will typically be rubbed on their toys and scratch posts as a treat or even a training aid.
Many tea and herbal companies sell teas either with catnip mixed in, but catnip can also be made by simply adding boiling water to the dried herb.
Catnip tea is thought to offer the following benefits:
The tea is hence sometimes used to treat conditions like insomnia, anxiety and headaches.
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