Feliobotany has not come up too many times in our class discussions. But since we spend billions of dollars on our pets each year, I could be convinced by an argument for its introduction into our course of study.
A member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, Nepeta cataria is found in wild populations in every state but Hawaii and Florida. It is characterized by soft gray-green toothed leaves, delicate purple flowers, and the square stem common to all mints.
Cats go crazy for catnip (hence its name). When they smell it, they usually begin rolling on the floor, rubbing against it, and eventually zoning out in complete ecstasy. When they eat it, though, it usually acts as a sedative. Only certain cats are (hereditarily) sensitive to catnip’s powers, though.
Catnip is also a historically important plant for humans. It was especially important for Native American tribes, including the Cherokee and Iroquois, and much scholarship has been written on this topic. It can be used as a stimulant, an abortifacient, an anthelmintic, an anticonvulsive, a cold remedy and cough medicine, an analgesic, a gastrointestinal aid, and a sedative, as well as forage. Also, a mosquito repellant. Who knew?
Though usually benign in humans, I’ll end with a word of warning from Georgetown’s Urban Herb initiative: “A case report of an otherwise healthy 19-month-old male was presented with an alteration of mental status following consumption of an unknown quantity of raisins soaking in a commercially marketed catnip tea. The patient suffered from irritability, upset stomach, and signs of lethargy during his stay at the hospital. After passing stool containing the raisins and what appeared to be tea leaves, the patient’s condition improved (Massoco 1995).” The more you know…
Massoco, CO, et al. Behavioral Effects of Acute and Long-Term Administration of Catnip (Nepeta cataria) in Mice. Vet Human Toxicol. Vol 37. Issue 6. December 1995. Pp.530-533.