What Is a Catnip Plant?

Overview

Catnip plants (Nepeta cataria) are also known as catmint (mostly in Great Britain). The plants are herbaceous perennial herbs that are naturalized in areas of North America. Catnip plants have tiny flowers that are either lilac or white in color. Catnip is fragrant. Its stems have a square shape, which is a common characteristic of many plants in the mint family Labiatae (such as the Creeping Charlie).

Cultivation

Catnip plants prefer the sun and are tolerant of drought. They are suitable for cultivation in regions that are arid and sunny (where most other flowers would suffer). They should be grown in partial shade or full sun. Similar to many other herbs, this plant works well in well-drained soil of poor quality. Catnip prefers slightly alkaline soils.

Origins

Catnip plants are native to both Asia and Europe. However, upon their introduction to North America (the United States and Canada), catnip plants have become naturalized. There are more than 250 different species of catnip plants.

Other Names

Catnip plants are known by several other different names, which are cat's wort, cataria, field balm, cat's heal all, catrup, herba cataria, garden nep, nebada, herba catti, chi hsueh tsao, cat's play and catnep.

Cats

When cats encounter catnip plants, they tend to sniff it, lick it, rub it and then consume it. The scent of catnip plants stimulate cats and give them a feeling of a high. However, when they eat the plant, it functions more like a sedative and makes them drowsy instead. Catnip is commonly used as a filler to many toys for cats. It poses no danger or threat to cats.

Ingredients

Catnip's active ingredient is nepetalactone, which is an essential oil that is extracted from the plant's stem and leaves. Other components of catnip plants include geraniol, acetic acid, citral, nerol, tannins, valeric acid, butyric acid, citronellol and alpha and beta-nepetalactone.

Humans

Catnip can also be useful for humans. It is often consumed as a tea. It also functions as a natural remedy for various different common afflictions, such as stomach upset, smallpox, insomnia, coughing, chills, toothache, muscle aches and pains, headaches and scarlet fever.

Keywords: catnip plants, nepeta cataria, catmint

About this Author

Isabel Prontes is a freelance writer and traveler residing in Manhattan, NY. She has traveled to five continents and counting. Her work has appeared on a number of websites, such as Travels, eHow.com and "Happy Living Magazine." Prontes has a professional background in public relations; she received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Pace University.