What is Catnip?

cat and catnip
Cat ready to eat some catnip

Catnip, or Nepeta Cataria as it is known botanically, is a mint. For most adult cats (80% or so), it is an irresistible intoxicating analgesic and soporific… cats roll around it, seem drunk, feel no pain, and then sleep it off peacefully.

The typical catnip trip lasts 5 to 15 minutes and is 100% harmless. Kittens actively avoid catnip until they are about 6 months old. The “lure” of catnip is in the genes, and male cats react more than females.

Most big cats love it, too. Lions, pumas, leopards; tigers are ambivalent. Is all catnip the same? Couldn’t be. Catnip grows on the ground. Like grapes for wine, its taste has to be affected by rainfall, soil, mean temperatures, wind, sunlight, growing season.

New Catnip Sampler Gift Packs

Thrill Both Cats and Cat-lovers

Lexington, Massachusetts… Maple syrup samplers, and samplers of jams and jellies may be old hat for most people, but a new six-jar gift sampler of catnip for cats may drive the cat-lover – as well as the cat, of course – to new heights of celebration on Christmas morning.

The sampler is the brainchild of The Catnip Trading Company, the Lexington, MA importer of edible cat treats and catnip from around the world. It contains glass jars of catnip from different locations such as Alaska, South Africa, West Virginia, Boston, Hawaii, Vermont, East Asia, and Canada. Both a six-jar and a four-jar offering are pre-packaged in wooden gift crates.

Mint Condition

“Most people think all catnip is the same,” according to Gene Kalb, president of the company. “They’re going to get a big surprise from their cats when they try the sampler. All catnip is the mint Nepeta Cataria, but in many cases, that’s where the similarities end,” he said.

Catnip is a natural product, he explained. It grows on the ground, like coffee, or wine-grapes. Nobody would say that all coffee is the same, or all wine is the same, he argues. How coffee or wine-grapes taste, and their potency, is a function of sunlight, length of growing season, rainfall, soil, directional exposure, care, and other factors. “People think all catnip is the same because their cats can’t talk,” he says, “but as we all know, they express themselves in other ways.”

Studies understate appeal

According to several studies, about 75-80% of cats react positively to catnip as a harmless, but irresistibly intoxicating analgesic and soporific… for ten to fifteen minutes cats roll around in it, eat it, seem drunk, feel no pain, and then sleep it off peacefully soon thereafter. “But those study numbers are probably low,” Kalb said. “Most of the tests assumed all catnip was the same and used just one kind; we know from direct experience with our own cats that some like one kind, and others like a different kind.”

Pet cats are not the only felines that react to catnip. Lions, pumas, leopards and other big cats love it, too; tigers are ambivalent. Reaction to catnip is obviously in their genes. Kittens under about 6 months of age actively avoid catnip, as if they understand the potency and are not ready to deal with it.

Catnip used to “cure”┬ásmallpox

Catnip’s colorful history in Europe and the United States includes a period in the 17th and 18th century when catnip tea was believed to have medicinal powers. It was frequently prescribed by doctors for women’s troubles, ague, smallpox and even cancer. Ceylon was the largest exporter of catnip tea and is a large exporter of other teas now.

“Almost everyone knows a cat-lover,” Kalb said, “and a holiday gift that honors that kinship between cat and caregiver is often especially appreciated. To cat-lovers, cats are like members of their families.”

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