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Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae
"The members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their famous effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors, typically resulting in temporary euphoria. It can also induce mild euphoria in humans."
"The genus is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. It is now also common in North America. Most of the species are herbaceous perennial plants, but some are annuals. They have sturdy stems with opposite heart-shaped, green to grayish-green leaves. The flowers are white, blue, pink or lilac and occur in several clusters toward the tip of the stems. The flowers are tubular and spotted with tiny purple dots."
"Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that in a test tube, distilled nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip, repels mosquitoes ten times more effectively than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents, but that it is not as effective a repellent when used on the skin. Additionally, catnip and catnip-laced products designed for use with domesticated cats are available to consumers."
Effects on cats
"Catnip and catmints are mainly known for the behavioral effects they have on cats, particularly domestics. When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, salivating much. Some will growl, meow, scratch or bite the hand holding it." (for more fun visit Cat Holidays!)
"Two thirds of cats are susceptible to catnip. The phenomenon is hereditary; for example, most Australian cats do not react to it. There is some disagreement about the susceptibility of lions and tigers to catnip."
"Catnip has nepetalactone, a terpene. Nepetalactone can be extracted from catnip by steam distillation. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium, not through their vomeronasal organ. At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptors where it probably mimics a cat pheromone, such as the hypothetical feline facial pheromone or the cat urine odorant MMB."
"Other plants that also have this effect on cats include valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and plants that contain actinidine or dihydroactinidiolide (Smith, 2005)."
Nepeta cataria ("catnip" or "catmint") "is mostly used as a recreational substance for feline enjoyment. Around 2 out of every 3 cats will be affected by the plant, and approximately 2 hours after an exposure, the feline will be sensitive to another dose. Whether it is growing in the wild or harvested and dried, felines will be affected by the plant. The common behaviors that are observed are: rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, drooling, or consuming much of the plant. It is said that felines are affected by the smell of the plant more than anything. Felines have such a strong sense of smell that they can detect the chemical nepetalactone, which is the main active ingrediant in Nepeta cataria. This chemical enters the feline's nose, and produces semi-hallucinogenic effects on the cat. Catnip has a history of human medicinal use for it's soothing effects. The plant has been consumed as a tea, juice, tincture, infusion, or poultice and has been smoked . Also, when the active oils in the plant are isolated and refined, they supposedly work as a great mosquito repellant. Catnip can also be smoked recreationally, and when combined with tobacco and other herbs, provides a "minty" taste and mild intoxicating effects"
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 greyish-green leaves and light purple flowers.
Nepeta species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including Coleophora albitarsella.