20 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know about Catnip

Catnip is a rather well-known plant. After all, it has a rather famous effect on cats, as shown by its name. With that said, there is much more to catnip than that single fact, which can provide interesting reading for cat fans as well as other people out there. Here are 20 things that interested individuals may or may not have known about catnip:

Its Scientific Name Is Nepeta Cataria

Catnip’s scientific name is Nepeta cataria. The first part Nepeta comes from a place called Nepeti, which once cultivated catnip. Meanwhile, the second part cataria comes from the Latin catari, which perhaps unsurprisingly, means “cat.” It is interesting to note that the current binomial system that sees use for scientific names wasn’t introduced until the early modern era, which was a huge improvement over the previous polynomial system. This is because the previous polynomial system meant that a particular species had to be distinguished from other species in the same genus by using entire phrases, which was more than a little bit awkward to say the least.

Sometimes Called Catmint

Most people call catnip by catnip. However, it is interesting to note that catnip has a number of other interesting names, with examples ranging from catmint to catswort. In particular, catsmint stands out because it can refer to not just the plant called catmint but also the entire genus of plants Nepeta, which can result in some confusion when there is insufficient context. As a result, it might be better for interested individuals to just stick to catnip so as to make sure to their listeners know exactly what they are referring to.

Belongs to the Family Lamiaceae

Speaking of which, some people might be curious about whether catnip is a mint or not, seeing as how it and its relatives are sometimes called catmint. If so, they are right to be curious because catnip is indeed a member of the family Lamiaceae, which should be better-known to most people as the mints. A significant percentage of the plants in the family Lamiaceae are aromatic, which in turn, explains why an enormous number of them are cultivated for culinary as well as other uses. This is particularly true because a lot of the members of the family Lamiaceae are much easier to cultivate than others, as shown by the fact that more can be grown using stem cutting. For those who are unsure what that means, this is when a clone of the parent plant can be created by planting a piece of the stem into either soil or some other growth medium.

It Is a Perennial Plant

Catnip is classified as a perennial plant. This means that the plant can be expected to live for a period of more than two years, which is in contrast to annual plants, which can be expected to live for a period of one year, and biennial plants, which can be expected to live for a period of two years. It should be noted that the term perennial plant tends not to include either trees or shrubs, both of which can be expected to live for more than two years under normal circumstances, because the term tends to be reserved for plants that don’t have much woody growth. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that plants can move between these classifications based on their circumstances. For example, something that can be expected to live for more than two years in either a tropical or a subtropical climate might not be able to manage the same in a temperate climate because it won’t survive the winter. As a result, it would be called a perennial plant in either a tropical or a subtropical climate but an annual plant in a temperate climate.

It Is a Herbaceous Plant

On a related note, catnip is classified as a herbaceous plant as well. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, a herbaceous plant is a plant without a woody stem that will survive the entire duration of its lifespan. Instead, the non-woody stem will die off at the end of its growing season, while the rest of the plant will remain either in the ground or close to the ground so that when the time comes, it can support new growth. Generally speaking, herbaceous plants don’t grow to huge sizes, but there are exceptions such as the banana, which doesn’t actually grow from a tree but rather from something that resembles a tree.

It Is Widespread

Given the popularity of cats, it should come as no surprise to learn that catnip is a widespread species. However, it is interesting to note that this didn’t happen as a result of naturalization for the most part. After all, the catnip is not just native to the Middle East but also to Central Asia, parts of Europe, and parts of China. Moreover, catnip has been naturalized in other parts of the world, with examples ranging from North America to the northern parts of Europe. Like its name suggests, the process of naturalization means that a non-native species exists in sufficient numbers in a new ecosystem that it can maintain its population on its own through standard reproduction. This is in contrast with other non-native species that can’t maintain their numbers without more being introduced on a constant basis from either some other ecosystem or some other source altogether. Of these, crops are perhaps the single best-known example.

Described in the Species Plantarum

Since it was so widespread, it should come as no surprise to learn that catnip was described in the Species Plantarum, which is an important book that has had a huge role in shaping the entire science of botany. This is because said book was the first one to use the binomial system for scientific names on a consistent basis, meaning that it was the one responsible for establishing the current naming system for not just catnip but also other plants. The reason for this transformation is made obvious by comparing the current scientific name of catnip with its previous scientific name by the same author Carl Linnaeus. Currently, catnip is Nepata cataria. In contrast, Linnaeus once called it by a much lengthier name consisting of five separate components, which was needed to distinguish it from all of the other plants belonging to the genus Nepata.

Contains Nepetalactone

The chemical that is responsible for catnip’s most famous effect is called nepetalactone, which wasn’t uncovered until 1941. Said chemical is classified as a terpenoid, which is a collection of organic chemicals that resemble terpenes. Plant terpenoids serve a remarkable range of functions. For example, it is a terpenoid that is responsible for the flavor of cinnamon as well as a number of other common spices. Likewise, it is a terpenoid that is responsible for the smell of eucalyptus. Finally, it is a terpenoid that is responsible for the most famous characteristic of cannabis. Summed up, terpenoids encompass a huge number of important chemicals in important plants, with nepetalactone being no more than a single example of that huge number. In fact, it should be mentioned that terpenoids are not limited to plants but can be found in the other kinds of living beings out there.

Used in Steam Distillation

It is interesting to note that nepetalactone was extracted via the process of steam distillation, which is used to produce essential oils from a wide range of useful plants. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, steam distillation is necessary because a lot of organic compounds undergo chemical decomposition when exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. As a result, steam distillation uses steam to carry trace amounts of those organic compounds to a condensation flask, where said organic compounds can be collected for further use. With that said, while a lot of people are most familiar with the process of steam distillation because of its use in producing essential oils, it sees a fair amount of use in other contexts as well, with examples ranging from soap-making to refining petro-chemicals.

Can Affect Some Cats But Not Others

Of course, catnip is best known for being a cat attractant. A fair number of cats will go out of their way to consume it. After which, they will start experiencing sleepiness as well as a wide range of other behaviors. However, it is interesting to note that catnip won’t have this effect on all of the cats out there. In fact, a full third of cats are believed to be immune to catnip, which seems to be a matter of genetics. The whole matter is still not wholly understood, but there is reason to believe that the gene responsible for making cats susceptible to catnip is dominant. As a result, if a cat is born to a pair of cats that are immune to catnip, it will be immune as well. Still, this process is not wholly understood, meaning that it still needs further research for this to be confirmed beyond doubt.

There Are Alternatives

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people have looked into other ways to induce similar effects in cats without the use of catnip since it doesn’t actually work on all of the cats out there. For example, there are a number of other plants that have been proven to have similar effects on a significant number of cats. One example is valerian, while other examples are silver vine and Tatarian honeysuckle. Interestingly, if a cat is immune to catnip, it does not necessarily mean that they are immune to the other plants listed here. As a result, if a cat is exposed to catnip as well as these other plants, there is a good chance that the cat will be affected by one of them even if they are not affected by the others.

Can Affect Big Cats

Amusingly, scientists have looked into the effects of catnip on other members of the family Felidae. Given the relationship between cats and other members of the family Felidae, it should come as no surprise to learn that those other species can be affected by catnip as well. For example, studies have shown that leopards have a strong reaction to catnip that is rather similar to that of cats, which is something that they share with other species such as cougars and lynxes. Likewise, both lions and tigers can be affected by catnip as well, though in their case, the results are much less consistent in nature. Summed up, catnip is capable of affecting both small cats and big cats, which must have made for a rather amusing sight when scientists were conducting their studies. In fact, interested individuals should know that a lot of videos concerning the reactions of various members of the family Felidae to catnip can be found on YouTube and similar sites.

Used to Attract Butterflies

Speaking of which, it is useful to note that catnip can attract species that don’t belong to the family Felidae as well. For example, some people choose to plant catnip in their gardens for the purpose of attracting butterflies. In part, this is because butterflies make for a beautiful sight, thus making an attractive scene that much more so to a lot of people out there. However, it should also be noted that butterflies play an important role as pollinators as well. Granted, butterflies are not as well-known as bees when it comes to this particular purpose because they are nowhere near as good at it, but they do their part nonetheless. As for why butterflies are not so good at pollinating, this is because they have long, thin legs, which isn’t helped by the fact that they don’t actually have any body structures that have evolved for the purpose of collecting pollen.

Used to Attract Lacewings

On a related note, some people plant catnip for the purpose of attracting lacewings as well. This can seem rather odd, seeing as how members of the order Neuroptera are not particularly well-known. However, lacewings often have chewing mouth-parts, which can prove useful when it comes to predating upon their favorite prey. For some species, this prey means aphids as well as mites, which are huge nuisances for a wide range of plants. In other words, some people choose to plant catnips for the purpose of implementing the biological control of pest species, which is important for a lot of gardeners who want to avoid the use of pesticides as much as possible. Of course, the biological control of pest species has both its pros and its cons, but for some people, said combination is well worth it.

Repels Some Insects

With that said, while catnip is an attractant for some species of insects, it is also a repellent for other species of insects. For example, catnip repels not just aphids but also squash bugs, thus making it that much more useful when it comes to the biological control of pest species. However, the more important fact might be how catnip repels flies as well as mosquitoes. Unfortunately, the essential oil of catnip isn’t actually that good at keep flies and mosquitoes away when it has been applied to the skin. However, it is much more effective when used in other ways, so much so that some studies suggest that it is something along the lines of being 10 times better than DEET. Better still, catnip is actually useful for repelling both cockroaches and termites as well, thus making it that much more useful.

Humans Use Catnip

In the past as well as in the present, humans make a fair amount of use of catnip for various reasons. For example, we don’t experience the same effects as most cats when we are exposed to catnip. However, there are people who ingest it by smoking it, which is said to produce a sense of relaxation that is admittedly, fairly weak. Meanwhile, other people have other uses for catnip, with examples ranging from those who brew it into a sort of tea to those who use it in their cooking. It is amusing to note that at one point in time, some people believed that catnip had an effect on humans that was similar to that of cannabis. However, said point in time was rather short-lived because what had happened was that a bunch of scientists were studying the effects of the two plants on humans but had accidentally gotten the two mixed up with one another.

Once Used in Medicine

Given the widespread nature of catnip, it should come as no surprise to learn that it used to see a fair amount of use in medicine. Sometimes, it was used as a medicine on its own. Other times, it was converted into either a tincture, a poultice, or some other form that was more suitable for the patient. Whatever the case, the use of catnip for medical purposes eventually faded away because more reliable medicines became available to interested individuals at reasonable prices, meaning that there was no longer a need for it. Still, there are people in the present who continue to make use of catnip as a remedy for various problems, with an excellent example being its use as a tea meant to relieve insomnia in the drinker.

Not Harmful For Cats

Some people might be concerned about whether catnip is safe for their cats or not. If so, they should not be because as it turns out, catnip is completely safe for the use of cats. In fact, cats won’t become addicted to catnip, which should come as welcome news to those who might have exposed their beloved pets to the plants without knowing the full extent of the potential effects. This is a huge contrast to a fair number of the drugs that humans take for recreational purposes, which can cause addiction so bad that the withdrawal symptoms can actually kill people. As a result, it is no wonder that people struggling to overcome drug problems are recommended to seek the care of rehab centers, which can provide them with the medical supervision that they need to ensure that they won’t die in the process of free themselves from their addictions.

Can Make Cats Aggressive

With that said, while catnip doesn’t have a harmful effect on cats, this does not mean that the use of catnip can’t lead to harmful results when used in an incorrect manner. This is because while catnip tends to have either a stimulating effect or a sedative effect on cats depending on whether a particular cat has either smelled it or eaten it, there are some cats who have a much more aggressive reaction upon encountering the plant. As a result, if someone introduces catnip to an environment with multiple cats, that could lead to fighting between them. When a household has more than one cat, it is recommended that the cat owner expose each cat to catnip on an individual basis to test their reactions before exposing them to catnip as a group, which should help them ensure that none of their cats start a fight.

Can Be Used to Train Cats

Sometimes, cat owners will use catnip as a way of training their cats. For example, if a cat owner wants their cat to make more use of a particular scratching post, catnip is a often-used solution to that particular problem. Likewise, if a cat owner wants to encourage a cat to make more use of a particular toy, catnip is a solution in that case as well. In the long run, this means that catnip can actually contribute a fair amount to a cat’s health by encouraging it to get additional exercise. Moreover, some cat owners have been known to use catnip as a way of smoothening initial interactions between different cats, though as stated, they will want to make sure that none of them have an aggressive reaction beforehand lest they ruin things through their help.

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