Clover may be the symbol of waking Spring and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, but nothing quite compares to the velvety green of catnip, nature’s natural cat high and one of the first emerging perennials of March.

Catnip for Cats and Cut Flowers

girls with dog at amnc

Catnip is a member of the mint family. Many of you may have a domesticated (and quite beautiful) version of it growing in your flower beds already. Nepeta, as catnip is known horticulturally,  is a hardy perennial with downy green leaves and clusters of alluring, plum-colored flowers. Planted in drifts, some variations on the wild plant can color the back of borders with a kind of Pointillist’s purple.

What Kind of Soil and Moisture Levels Does Catnip Like?

You may also have a version of it growing wild in a ditch or other moist area of your property. It’s one of the few plants that can stand slow draining soil.   Catnip, or catmint as it is sometimes called, is native to Europe, the Middle East and Asia, but naturalized in the the Americas with the arrival of European colonists. It has been grown as a medicinal herb for humans for centuries. Browse some tea versions that you can enjoy while watching your cat destroy a fresh version on the floor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 10.01.49 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 10.11.02 AMWhy Cats Love Catnip

But let’s cut to the chase. You love it because your cat loves it. Well, probably, loves it. The feline attraction to catnip is an inherited trait with 50-70% of felines predisposed to going cukoo for this cat-friendly Coco Puff.

At the center of catnip’s appeal is an essential oil called, nepetalactone. It binds to special receptor sites in the cat’s nose and mimics feline happiness pheromones. Of the cats with the right olfactory receptors, a whiff of catnip causes them to roll on the floor, chew at the mint, rub it on their bodies, run amok, growl, purr and generally act as though they were intoxicated with joy. How great is that?!

Can Cats Eat Catnip?

If cats (or people) eat the mint, they experience the opposite effect. Ingestion of the plant causes cats to be calm and sleepy. It also (unfortunately) can cause them to vomit.

Why Does My Cat Vomit?  Could It Be a Hairball?  Click to Read What Dr. G has to Say on the Topic.

The effects of catnip wear off nearly as quickly as they come on with the ‘high’ effect lasting no longer than 10 minutes, but after a break from the ‘drug’ of a few hours, you can return the treat to your purry friend and watch it elicit the same effect.

Grow Your Own Catnip

catnip growing

Growing your own catnip is easy. Seeds are available online. Start with a favorite flowerpot, line the bottom with gravel, fill with potting soil, sprinkle the seeds on top, and lightly cover them with another fine layer of soil. Keep the pot moist and out of direct sunlight until you see the bright green seedlings emerge, then move the pot to a sunny spot and continue to grow and thin the plants as needed. You’ll also need to keep the entire operation waaaaaaaaay out of bounds from your cat unless you like smashed pot, dirt and seeds on your floor.  And …um…good luck with that!

Buy catnip seeds for both your cat and your flower garden

Buy catnip seeds for both your cat and your flower garden

Catnip is Safe

Catmint is a fun treat that you can give your cat. The active ingredient is safe and its effects typically wear off within 10 minutes or so.  Occasionally ingestion of the plant will make a cat vomit.  The plant is NOT habit forming.

This spring, we’ll have a few of the wild plants growing in the Animal Medical gardens surrounding the hospital. Feel free to stop by and harvest a few leaves to take home to the feline leprechaun in your life.