A few Words about Catnip

Why write about catnip? Because I can. . .

I’m sure if you’re like me, one day you sat down and said to yourself, “Hey, I know nothing about Catnip!”


On this topic, people fall into a few camps. First there are those who are like the little girl, when asked to write a book report on penguins wrote, “This book tells me more about penguins then I care to know.”

Next are those who understand that random bits of knowledge are hugely important for the socially challenged. Being able to — at will — talk about baseball stats, penguins or catnip gives you a sense of confidence as you walk into that room full of other socially awkward people.

Finally, there are the cat people. Dedicated. Fierce in their love for felines and often misunderstood by the rest of us.

I ranged far and wide on the internet for research and I actually talked to three cat people (one being my daughter) about this important topic.

First, the scientific name for catnip is Nepata Cataria. This is the name you should scribble on your palm before a party. Using the scientific name always has a “wow” factor.

Next, catnip is in the mint family, which explains my attraction. When I was eight, my mom came around the corner of our house and found me on my knees inhaling the scent of wild mint that grew against our basement wall. She muttered, “strange child,” and walked away.

Catnip has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. It has been used as a calming tea, a sleeping aid, a cure for gastrointestinal issues and as a mosquito repellant.

Then there is the effect on cats . . .which, let’s face it, is weird. Catnip seems to act like a psychoactive drug, akin to smoking weed. We don’t really know, because you can’t ask a cat. All we can do is watch their behavior. Recall high school, laughing at inane things while high, spinning around on the floor, chasing shadows and tails.

The effects last for ten to twenty minutes, then most cats just chill and go back to sleep. Not all cats succumb to the “devil weed.” There is possibly a genetic factor involved. About 30% seem immune. Some cats become aggressive.

Also, and predictably, catnip seems to be a sedative for dogs. As if they need more help sleeping fourteen hours a day.

Here is the next important question. Why do people, even people who don’t personally do drugs, give their cats catnip?

First, just like watching your friends when they are high, it’s extremely entertaining to watch a cat that’s high. My friend and esteemed cat lady, Cristal Suazo grew up in Alaska, with no internet. Giving their cats catnip and watching them go bonkers had high entertainment value especially during the long Alaskan winters.

Next, there seems to be no ill effect from using catnip. Used in moderation, mature cats can “turn on” with catnip their entire lives. This I find extremely unfair. Apparently cats will never have to endure sitting in health science class in high school watching “Reefer Madness.” They will never have to worry about their brains shrinking from even moderate drinking.

Believe me, I dug for dirt, I wanted to talk to someone (like a “just say no” Nancy Reagan) who would spill the beans on harmful effects. But the only caution I got was from Bobbi Heller, Executive Director of Feline and Friends, a cat adoption and placement organization in Santa Fe (fandfnm.org). Her tip was that occasionally a cat might be allergic and sneeze or more likely, in their “zest” to get at the catnip, eat part of the packaging and get a bit sick. Remember your friends, after smoking a bit of weed, were so hungry they’d chewed up part of an Oreo cookie package? Same idea.

I hope you are now mildly satisfied that we have fill in this knowledge gap and you feel prepared to use this new information! I know catnip doesn’t come up that often as a social topic, but when there is that awkward silence at a party, you can ask, “Hey, have I ever told you about catnip?”