Catnip has a strong reputation for a plant. Considered the standard marijuana for cats, there is of course a natural controversy that stems from it use. So, what is catnip? After all, if we’re going to argue its use or disuse so vehemently, we should in fact understand it and its actual affect on kittens and cats before taking sides.
First of all, catnip is an herb. Not necessarily an herb that you want to mix into the spaghetti sauce, but its usefulness in the human world is exactly what made it quite so obvious that it also had a usefulness in the feline world. A perennial, which means it pops up year after year for all you brown thumbs out there, which is technically known by its Latin name, Nepeta cataria and produces an aroma that cats are strongly attracted to. It can be quite the source of entertainment to watch a kitten with their first ball of catnip. However, don’t be too disappointed if your kitty just treats their specially designed catnip toy like all his other toys. Not all cats lose their minds. In fact, only about 30% of all the kitties in the United States and Canada completely forget their manners in the face of catnip.
Catnip has been proven useful in the human world. It has some interesting health properties that are unique and some say overwhelmingly remarkable. Soft tissue infections caused by specific agents such as Staphylococcus aureus have been proven to respond to catnip. Toxic Shock Syndrome, a serious illness caused by leaving a tampon in for too long causing a serious infection, has also been known to respond well to catnip as a treatment. It can double as a sleep aid or an antifungal agent. Scientists and experimental herbalists are now trying it out as a natural insect repellant with some success.
Catnip is a hairy plant that is related to mint. Enthusiasts of the herb can grow it in their windowsills in little herb pots if they wish, purchase it from the store in a dried form, or of course, buy the toys stuffed with it to be discovered in a sudden moment of euphoric serendipity. The herb was originally native to Eurasia, and what makes cats so bitey for the nip is actually an oil secreted by the plant. This is why cats seem to go a little more ga—ga over the fresh version as opposed to the dry version. Technically speaking, there is enough of this precious oil remaining in the dried version to have an impact until the cat experiences the fresh stuff. Then watch out.
So, what is catnip to cats? For some, it’s really not much. But for those who find it intoxicating, it is the equivalent to chocolate made from real chocolate or a bottle of the world’s best ranked wine for the connoisseur. It is completely and totally that absolute most precious delight that makes your cat dream pleasant dreams and make nice with the entire family. It is that one moment of absolute bliss amidst an otherwise ordinary day. For cats who respond to catnip, there is little else that can compete with it. In fact, a few informal studies were conducted that proved a cat’s preference to catnip over just about anything. Cats were given choices between catnip and their food, catnip and broiled fish, and even catnip and chicken livers. 93% of the cats involved chose the catnip over everything else. This in itself is a pretty strong testimony straight from the mouths of kitties.
Despite its association with marijuana, which was dubbed by people with a particular fondness for the drug by the way, catnip is not a drug. In fact, it doesn’t affect a cat the way a drug would. Drugs work through receptors in the brain while catnip stimulates olfactory responses in cats. When Fluffy is hurtling himself about and acting as though you just injected him with a Super Steroid, he is really just a bit…aroused. Catnip gives off a synthetic pheromone that some cats just find completely dandy. Not all cats will respond to this particular pheromone, just like not all people respond to the same pheromones. Some cats will find it relaxing, which is why people decide that cats can become “stoned” from catnip. They are not stoned. They are satiated and calm, like their mother just paid them a visit and rocked them into a comforting state with her sweet perfume providing the best comfort in the world, despite the fact that they are in fact 36 years old.
Catnip can elicit a grand response from some cats, but just like all other primal sexual urges, cats can not maintain this level of excitement indefinitely. After about 5 to 15 minutes, the cat will begin to lose interest, and their arousal can not be once again piqued for at least an hour, sometimes 24.
So, what is catnip? It’s just an herb. It’s an absolutely wonderfully amusing herb delight for kitties who are in need of a little jousting in their day. It is not habit forming, addictive, mind altering, or otherwise related to controlled substances. Catnip can be used by humans for specific ailments and illnesses, and it is also used in certain spells of practicing witches. However, those spells are guarded rather heavily and we are not clear on which ones they are used.