It’s easy to grow and strangely enough the plant is quite safe from cats until you pick a few leaves and bruise them to release the smell we love. There are exceptions of course and some cats will dig it up.
Nepetalactone is the whoo-hoo stuff that really does the business in catmints. It cleverly attaches to our nose channels, and can cause us temporary euphoria, sometimes it makes us playful or a bit aggressive, and some cats I know just want to roll around in it.
There’s no known danger if a cat eats catnip. If I were to eat too much I might be sick but I wouldn’t be poisoned. As catnip is mildly sedative (for humans too) it might make me rather sleepy – but it’ll be hard to tell really because me and all the other cats I know can sleep 15 hours a day anyway!
The science boffins say catnip resembles a component of female cat urine odorant MMB. Some people have even suggested it might mimic kitty sex communication pheromones. Talking of sex, I’m told there’s no difference in reaction whether a cat is male, female or spayed – so there!
But little kittens don’t like the smell and some are even afraid of it.
Noses apart, some of the catmints have nicer flowers and a more human-friendly smell than others. Herb catalogues will be a source of these more exotic catnips. Your cat probably doesn’t care – I know I don’t.
There are other plants we like too but for different reasons. For instance if catmint is my party plant, the indoor spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is my salad bowl. Nice to chew on, but it has zilch effect on my mood.
A huge thank you to Valerie Munro of Auntie Planty for helping me write this post and for the scientific bits.
Valerie is a horticulturist who helps people create the garden of their dreams by mentoring them and solving their plant problems. So you’re still in control of the work but you know exactly what you need to do to achieve what you want.
She has two cats – Jack and Buddy and here they are.