Nip Kitty's


Though Catnip (Nepeta cataria) had long been known for the kinds of responses it elicited from cats, until about 50 years ago, there were only a couple of published reports on the plant. Since that time, there have been a large number of studies including one which found that of a sample of 84 cats, one third did not respond to catnip. Another found that the response typically lasted not longer than fifteen minutes and that a cat had to be at least 8 weeks old before it found the plant interesting. A compound called nepetalactone was isolated from catnip in the early 1940's. It was tested on several African lions, who responded to pieces of cloth soaked in the chemical in a fashion similar to the way they responded to the whole plant. Lions and domestic cats are not the only felines that respond to catnip, a plant native to Europe but now found growing wild in much of the U.S. There have been a number of studies which have tried to determine which other cats are attracted by catnip. Jaguars, leopards, ocelots, and marguays tend to respond positively to the plant while tigers and pumas seem not to care for it.  And while one study found that bobcats were indifferent to it, some hunters regard the oil of catnip as an essential tool for capturing both bobcats and pumas. Aside from being a catplant, catnip has a long history of human use. It was used as a tea in the days before real tea was imported from the orient and also as a medicinal herb to treat a variety of complaints. The chemical mentioned above, nepetalactone, has been found to be a mild sedative. It also has been found to possess insect-repellant properties, and possibly rat-repellant properties as well. While generally it is the flowering tops and leaves that are employed medicinally, it is reported that chewing the root makes "even the most gentle person, fierce and quarrelsome." This report conflicts with the more commonly conceived notions about catnip, namely that it is an herb which has a generally calmative effect.