|Flowers of the plant|
Nepeta cataria, commonly known as catnip, catswort, or catmint, is a species of the genus Nepeta in the Lamiaceae family, native to Europe and southwestern to central Asia, and is widely naturalized elsewhere. The common name catmint can also refer to the genus as a whole.
Nepeta cataria is a short lived herbaceous perennial, growing 50–100 centimetres (20–39 in) tall and wide. It resembles a typical mint family member in appearance by having the characteristic square stem that members of the Lamiaceae plant family have, but with brown-green foliage. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to ovate.
- Nepeta cataria var. citriodora (or N. cataria subsp. citriodora), Lemon catnip.
The compound "iridodial" as extracted from catnip oil has been found to attract the beneficial insect known as lacewings which eat aphids and mites.
Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent. Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that, in vitro, distilled nepetalactone repels mosquitoes ten times more effectively than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents, but that it is not as effective a repellent when used on the skin.
Catnip has a history of medicinal use for a variety of ailments. The plant has been consumed as a tea, juice, tincture, infusion or poultice, and has also been smoked. However, its medicinal use has fallen out of favor with the development of more commonplace pharmaceutical drugs.
Catnip contains the feline attractant nepetalactone. Nepeta cataria (and some other species within the genus Nepeta) are known for their behavioral effects on the cat family, not only on domestic cats but also other species of cats. One test showed that tigers, leopards, and lynxes all reacted strongly to catnip in a manner similar to domestic cats, while lions did not react at all.
With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for pet cats' enjoyment, and catnip and catnip-laced products designed for use with domesticated cats are available to consumers. The common behaviors when cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip are rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, pawing at it, licking it, and chewing it. Consuming much of the plant is followed by drooling, sleepiness, anxiety, leaping about and purring. Some growl, meow, scratch, or bite the hand holding it. The main response period after exposure is generally between five and fifteen minutes,:p.107 after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in.
The nepetalactone in catnip acts as a feline attractant after it enters the feline's nose. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium, not through their vomeronasal organ. At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptors.
Other plants that also have this effect on cats include valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Acalypha indica (root) and plants that contain actinidine. Approximately 30% of domestic house cats who do not react to catnip will react in a similar way to Tatarian honeysuckle sawdust.:p.108
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