Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of
flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae.
The members of this family are known as catnips or catmints.
The genus is native to
Europe, Asia and Africa, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean
region east to China. Most of the species are herbaceous perennial plants, but
some are annuals. They have sturdy stems with opposite heart-shaped, green to
greyish-green leaves. The flowers
are white, blue, pink or lilac and occur in several clusters toward the tip of
Nepeta cataria flowers
Nepeta cataria (Catnip, True Catnip, Catmint or Field Balm) is a
50–100 cm tall herb resembling mint in appearance, with greyish-green
leaves; the flowers are white, finely spotted with purple. It has been
introduced to many countries, and is now a widespread weed in some areas,
including the United States. A lemon-scented cultivar, N. cataria 'Citriodora'
looks exactly like true catnip, but has the scent of, and can be used like Lemon
Nepeta grandiflora (Giant Catmint or Caucasus Catmint) is lusher than
true catnip, and has dark green leaves and dark blue, almost purple flowers.
Nepeta × faassenii (N. racemosa × N. nepetella;
Faassen's Nepeta or Faassen's Catnip) is mostly grown as an ornamental plant.
This hybrid is far
smaller than either of above, and is almost a ground cover. It has with greyish-green
leaves and light purple flowers.
Some Dracocephalum, Glechoma and Calamintha species were formerly classified in Nepeta.
Effects on cats
Catnip and catmints are mainly known for, and named after, the effects they
have on cats,
cats. Approximately two thirds of cats are susceptible to the effects of
catnip, as the phenomenon is
terpene, that is thought to mimic feline sex pheromones. Cats detect it through
their vomeronasal organs. When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip,
they will rub in it, roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about, then
purr loudly, growl, and meow. This reaction only lasts for several minutes
before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to "reset"
and then it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before.
Young kittens and older cats are less likely to have a reaction to catnip but
big cats, such as tigers,
seem to be extremely sensitive to it.
Cat owners do not need to worry about allowing their cats access to catnip
because there are, for the most part, no negative side effects to it. However,
some cats become overly excited when exposed to catnip, and so aging cats with
heart troubles should not be given catnip.
Other plants that also have this effect on cats include
Valerian and plants that contain actinidine or dihydroactinidiolide (Smith, 2005).
At least three species attract cats, Nepeta cataria, N. grandiflora
and N. × faassenii, but most other species have not been tested. Of
these, both true catnip and Faassen's catnip have a sharp, biting taste, while
the taste of giant catmint is bland.