Catnip, occasionally called field balm or catmint, is a perennial plant that originates in Europe.
Catnip is used, both blatantly and subtly, to have a positive effect on all kinds of cats. Dried catnip is, for example, usually found in cat toys, though it’s more commonly found in tea. You can find it in most health and food shops, as well as pharmacies for human ingestion. It is prepared like any other herbal tea, by steeping the dried leaves of the plant in boiling water.
Catnip tea was mostly used as a herbal medicine for nervous disorders, coughs, gas, and diarrhea, whereas today it’s consumed more for its flavor and to induce a sense of euphoria in your cat.
Below is a brief rundown on what you need to know if you’re a cat, or you own a cat and are looking to get into catnip!
What is catnip tea?
Catnip is a medicinal herb made from the dried leaves of the catnip plant. Sometimes called Nepeta cataria, a lot of the information regarding catnip tea is anecdotal. What is known for sure is that it contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is proven to have relaxing properties.
Native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, it was eventually imported to North America. Fresh catnip was heart-shaped leaves that can sprout small blue, pink, or lavender blooms.
The leaves can be clipped and hung to dry in a dark space and then kept in a stash to have on hand. Make sure to store it in a bag and refrigerate it for longer-lasting potency. Your catnip will never go “off” but its aroma and taste will dwindle with age. A fine wine this is not.
Be careful to keep catnip plants out of your cat’s reach. A tiny nibble on a catnip leaf probably won’t have any huge side effects on your feline friend, but the plant could be damaged, coming between you and your cat’s enjoyment of a little catnip tea.
Is catnip safe for cats?
Good news: catnip is completely safe for cats and young kittens. But if they were to eat a bunch of fresh or dried catnip leaves, it could leave them with stomach discomfort, vomiting, and maybe diarrhea. Luckily, cats have a lot of self-control. It’s not in their nature to binge anything.
Some cats, normally males, might become a bit randy and hot-tempered when fed catnip, probably because of the connection to mating behavior. If your cat is made irritable, be sure to cut off the source. Alternatives are aplenty. Consider honey-suckle or valerian. You could also talk to your vet, who will be able to diagnose your pet properly.
What is the effect of catnip on cats?
The key ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone, an essential oil that affects the workings of your cat’s brain, by binding to receptors in its nose, which stimulates the sensory neurons that lead to the brain. It essentially mimics feline pheromones, triggering a sense of euphoria.
The euphoria doesn’t last that long, around half an hour. Your cat will probably bounce around the room for ten minutes at best before simmering down and wandering off for a spot of shut-eye. It becomes immune to the high for around six hours. Catnip will cause your cat to purr and drool. It’s believed to have a slight hallucinatory effect, which will explain why your cat is trying to catch invisible objects in the air.
Some cats won’t dig catnip. Well, their tastebuds might but their brains won’t. You’ll never really know how your cat will react to the stuff until it has a bit, so if you’re cautious, start with small amounts. Don’t throw it in the deep end and drive it stir-crazy. An angry cat can be painful for the owner!
What are the catnip alternatives?
15% of cats do not respond to catnip, while cats that are less than 6 months old almost never respond to catnip, likely down to sexual immaturity. Asian cat breeds are not genetically inclined to respond to catnip. Some other common breeds have also been found to lack the “gene response”. It’s really all about the luck of the draw.
There are a few alternatives to catnip tea that create the same effect, the most popular being Valerian Roots and Honeysuckle. From the Field recently launched a new blend made up of catnip leaves and silver vine which is said to be a great substitute.
Can cats drink tea?
Okay, say your cat doesn’t like catnip, valerian, or honeysuckle. Are there any teas out there safe for cats to drink? After all, it is very nice to cozy up to your furry pal on the sofa on a cold rainy night. It’d be pretty swell if they could indulge too.
A lot of diluted herbal teas are fine for cats to drink, notably ginger and chamomile. It’s the caffeine they don’t respond to, so avoid any sturdier teas like green or black. And never, under any circumstances, give your cat a cup of coffee, lest you incur their amped-up wrath.
Is catnip safe for babies?
To the young parents wondering if catnip is suitable for babies: no. While it won’t ever seriously harm your child, it certainly won’t help them in the same way it helps cats. It has been known to cause vomiting in younger children. On babies, it has a sedative effect (which may sound promising to exhausted parents) but you should always keep the two apart.
Catnip tea, irresponsibly, is sometimes flogged as a remedy for infant colic but there are little to no studies proving this or the impacts it may have on the baby’s long-term health. Stick to the cradling and warm milk!
Is catnip tea safe for adults?
Catnip tea is safe for adults in small amounts. Larger amounts will likely cause headaches, vomiting, and gastrointestinal issues, much like they would in young children. Catnip is a diuretic, which means it can cause frequent urination, so dehydration is also a risk for adult consumers.
Catnip tea is also known for its sedative properties, so having too much could lead to drowsiness. So if you’re in the mood for some catnip tea before driving or operating machines, think twice and opt for a strong coffee instead! Catnip tea should not be drunk with any herb, depressant, or medication that has drowsiness as a side effect. Benzos, anticonvulsants, kava, valerian, cough medicine… if you’re taking any of these regularly, don’t drink catnip! Those with pelvic inflammatory disease, heavy menstruation, or who are pregnant should also steer clear.
How do you make catnip tea?
To make a cup of catnip tea, add 2 teaspoons of catnip leaves to a pot, add boiled water, let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes, strain, serve and enjoy! If you’re looking for a sweetener, add lemon, honey, or agave for an extra little kick!
For those of you out there who have ever smelled your cat’s stash of ‘nip, you’ll have noticed it was a welcoming earthy smell. As for the taste, it boasts a suitable woodsy, grassy taste. By adding lemon, you will also unlock many of its secret mint and citrus notes.