Back to the list

Nepeta cataria – the most famous cat drug

author Lucy Byrne | Care and raising

Nepeta cataria, that is cat mint, is a wild-growing perennial herb that comes from southern Europe. Cat mint is related to mint. Its up to one meter tall bushes thrive in dry, sunny places and they bloom from late spring until the autumn. It is not popular among cat lovers only. It smells nice to people, it is grown as a decorative plant and a medicinal herb. It can also be used for a soothing tea, for instance (careful, pregnant women may not have it – it supports uterine contractions and bleeding).

Cats are mainly interested in the above-the-ground part of the plant, both fresh and dried. A lot of cats are a little crazy about it. They cuddle with it, roll around it, salivate excessively. This is caused by the nepetalactone silica that is released and that gets into the cat’s organism by inhalation.

If cats sniff cat mint, their pupils usually stretch rapidly and their behaviour subsequently changes to the typical behaviour that is caused by stimulating effects of the plant. And on the contrary, when they eat cat mint, it works as a sedative and the cats will calm down. They usually nibble it so that more essential oil that contains nepetalactone would be released by disruption of the structure of the leaves and the stem.

But some cats (a third to a half) don’t respond to cat mint at all. Breeds that don’t come from areas where cat mint grows naturally often have a lesser interest in this plant: Siamese and Burmese cats, for instance. Since response to cat mint is a matter of genetics and it is hereditary. Little enthusiasm is also shown by older cats and kittens that are yet to reach sexual maturity. Apart from cats, tigers or lynxes also respond to cat mint.

However, you don’t have to worry that your fluffy friend could be hurt by this herb in any way. It doesn’t have any side effects and it’s not addictive. The “intoxication” wears off by itself after 5 – 20 minutes and the cat has to rest for an hour before it starts to get interested in the herb again.

Buying and growing

You can get it already dried, in spray or sewed in in toys. But its growing isn’t difficult. It will thrive in a garden or a flower box outside the window (it might be an issue if a “high” cat gets to it and manages to destroy it sooner than the plant grows properly).

If you plant it in the garden, take into account, that it spreads by underground vines. If you don’t like for it to spread uncontrollably around the garden, hitch the roots of the plant in a flowerpot.

It is picked when in bloom and dried in heat, dry and darkness – this way, maximum of the essential oil is retained. It is kept in the dark, since the sunlight destroys the active substance contained. A freshly picked cat mint can also be frozen.

Does your cat belong among those that get “high” on cat mint or is it indifferent to it? If you didn’t succeed with cat mint, don’t lose hope. Next time, I will introduce you to more cat drugs ;).