Cats vs. Catnip

018At Blooming Artichoke we grow lots of different perennial herbs.  Some are easy plants to grow, some are more exact and difficult, but catnip (Nepeta cataria) has to be the most challenging of the lot because it calls out to all its destroyers within sniffing distance.

First of all, I love cats.  I’ve been a certified crazy cat lady my whole life.  I love plants.  And I have the plant geek certificates and stack of dirty garden gloves to prove it.  There are just times when those two loves do not work well together.  Catnip and furballs are a good example. 

Catnip contains a volatile compound called nepatalactone in the leaves and stems.  For some cats (50-70% depending on who you reference) the compound when smelled acts as a sort of artificial cat pheromone resulting in behavior not unlike when a person uses pot or LSD.  The effects last about 10 minutes while the kitty writhes, drools and is generally entertaining.  The cat then becomes temporarily desensitized and wanders off to recover in typically dignified cat fashion.  Our cat Freya hugs her catnip toys and lays on them like a pillow and drools and zones out then goes off for a snack at her food bowl.  If eaten, catnip is a mild sedative for cats, as it is for us.  It is not addictive or harmful to cats but frequent exposure will decrease their interest in the plant.

Kittens are not affected by catnip, so if you are looking for entertainment from the junior felines stick to feathers and plastic balls with bells in them.  Once they reach maturity at about seven months they may appreciate the catnip toys you provide.

All of this is well and good.  Cats love catnip.  For humans from a medicinal herb perspective it is an amazing plant that has been used for ages as a carminative to settle upset stomachs, relief with colds and flu, a great mosquito repellent, and as mentioned, a mild sedative.  Catnip should not be used by pregnant women.  There are more than enough reasons to grow it to offer in the nursery.  The trick for us has been how to get the catnip from seed to lush catnip plant before it is discovered by all the neighborhood cats.

I’ve found whole trays of young catnip that were thriving stripped to little green twigs in pots the following morning.  In the garden, large clumps of catnip are regularly flattened into an aureole of greenery for an aromatic cat nest.  The most entertaining was probably one time when I was cutting catnip plants back and turned around to find one of the neighborhood toms hugging bunches of the cuttings in his paws and rolling around on the grass behind me.

All of which makes growing this plant to maturity challenging. We’re trying decoy plants and barricades now.  Wish us luck.

References:

How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats? (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-how-does-catnip-work-on-cats/

PetMD. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2017, from http://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/jcoates/2011/june/cats_and_catnip-does_it_really_get_them_high_and_why-11271

Catnip, S. (2015, November 04). The History Of Catnip. Retrieved July 28, 2017, from http://catniptoy.co.uk/the-history-of-catnip/

 

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