Catnip. Does This Herb Really Taste Like Cats Imagine?

What is Catnip?

Catnip refers to a minty herb from the Nepeta genus of plants, native to parts of Europe and Asia. Its botanical name is Nepeta cataria. Catnip is a species of mint that contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone.

Catnip is a perennial herbaceous plant from the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It grows up to 3 feet (1 meter) tall and has grayish-green leaves. The leaves have a distinctive minty, lemony aroma. Catnip produces clusters of lavender, pink, or white flowers from summer through early fall.

The key bioactive constituent in catnip is nepetalactone, which gives the plant its characteristic minty odor. Nepetalactone produces a unique response when smelled by cats – inducing a euphoric state and stimulating playful behavior. This chemical compound is what makes catnip intriguing and attractive to cats.

There are different species of catnip, including the common Nepeta cataria (also known as true catnip) as well as variants like lemon catnip (Nepeta cataria var. citriodora). All contain the key cat-attracting compound nepetalactone.

Why Does Catnip Affect Cats?

The active ingredient in catnip that causes a response in cats is called nepetalactone. This organic compound mimics feline pheromones and triggers a response in cats’ brains. When cats smell nepetalactone, it binds to receptors in their olfactory epithelium, causing the euphoric effects that cat owners observe when their cats are exposed to catnip.

Nepetalactone causes both neurological and physiological responses in cats. Neurologically, it activates the opioid receptors in cats’ brains, inducing a temporary feeling of euphoria. Physiologically, it causes increased heart rate, drooling, head shaking, and muscle contractions or spasms. The effects of catnip on cats typically last around 10-15 minutes before subsiding.

Research indicates the response to catnip and nepetalactone is an inherited autosomal dominant trait in cats. However, kittens younger than eight weeks old typically show no interest in catnip.


Catnip’s Effects on Cats

When cats encounter catnip, they often exhibit several characteristic behaviors and responses. According to the Humane Society[1], the most common reactions to catnip include sniffing, licking, chewing, and head shaking as cats interact with the plant. Cats may also roll around on catnip or rub their bodies against it in a state of euphoria.

These catnip-induced behaviors tend to be intense but short-lived, usually lasting between 5 and 15 minutes before the cat loses interest[2]. During this time, cats often seem incredibly stimulated and excited by the presence of catnip. They may meow, growl, or become hyperactive while under the influence of this minty herb. Overall, catnip produces a temporary feeling of euphoria in cats that makes them react in funny and dramatic ways.

Is Catnip Toxic to Cats?

Catnip is not considered toxic or harmful to cats when used appropriately. The active ingredient in catnip is called nepetalactone, which binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and has a stimulating effect. However, catnip is non-addictive and does not contain any substances that are toxic to cats.

Cats have a refractory period after being exposed to catnip, meaning they need to “reset” before the nepetalactone will have an effect again. This prevents them from continuously overindulging. Eating small amounts of catnip should not cause any harm, although very large amounts can potentially cause upset stomach or diarrhea. Overall, catnip is not toxic to cats, non-addictive, and safe for feline enjoyment in moderation.

What Does Catnip Taste Like to Cats?

cat rolling in catnip

The unique taste and smell of catnip is powerfully alluring and irresistible to cats (1). Catnip contains an organic compound called nepetalactone, which binds to cats’ olfactory receptors and stimulates a pleasurable response (2). When cats get a whiff of catnip, the nepetalactone triggers their vomeronasal organ, inducing a temporary euphoric state and pleasure-seeking behavior (3).

The taste of catnip is often described as minty, lemony, and herbaceous. Cats are especially sensitive to the aromatic oils in catnip, which smell sweet, tangy, and potent. Researchers liken the catnip reaction in cats to the cannabis high in humans – an irresistible sensory experience (2). Once cats taste and smell that intoxicating catnip flavor, they act playful, affectionate, and downright giddy.

So while catnip may smell pleasant to humans, for cats, the scent is absolutely euphoric. The unique taste and aroma of catnip triggers a feel-good sensory experience that cats find alluring and addictive.





Can Humans Consume Catnip?

Catnip is generally considered safe for human consumption when used properly. As a member of the mint family, it is related to other culinary herbs like oregano and basil that are routinely added to foods.

Catnip contains an organic compound called nepetalactone that gives it its distinctive minty aroma and flavor. While cats can detect this compound at very low concentrations and it induces a euphoric response, humans require much higher doses for any effects.

Dried catnip leaves have been consumed for centuries as an herbal tea. When steeped in hot water, catnip makes a light, aromatic herbal tea that has a gently soothing effect. Drinking a cup of catnip tea is not known to be harmful for most people.

cup of catnip tea

Catnip can also be used as a seasoning when cooking. Adding small amounts of the dried leaves to sauces, soups or stews can impart a minty essence. The soft herbaceous flavor complements many recipes.

As with any herb, it’s recommended to introduce catnip in small amounts at first when brewing tea or cooking to gauge your individual tolerance. But there is a long history of human consumption of catnip with no reports of serious adverse effects.

Taste and Aroma for Humans

Catnip has an earthy, herbal flavor to humans. Its minty aroma comes through, but the taste is more subtle with bitter, citrusy notes. As one Reddit user described it, catnip tastes “slightly bitter, smokey, and a bit oily. Not as skunky as weed, but you get the idea.”

The aroma of catnip is often described as minty or herbaceous. Some describe it as reminiscent of citrus. The scent can be quite potent. According to Healthline, allowing catnip tea to steep longer with lemon enhances its natural minty, citrusy aroma.

While catnip elicits a strong response in cats, the taste and aroma for humans is much more subtle. The flavor and scent profiles lean toward earthiness with hints of mint and citrus.

Culinary Uses for Catnip

Catnip has a minty, herbaceous flavor that makes it a versatile culinary ingredient for both savory and sweet dishes. Some popular ways to use catnip in cooking include:

Tea – Catnip leaves can be dried and made into a soothing herbal tea. Catnip tea has a gentle sedative effect that promotes relaxation. Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Add lemon, honey or other herbs like chamomile for additional flavor. Source

Seasoning – Fresh or dried catnip leaves can season meats, salads, and vegetable dishes. In medieval times, catnip was commonly grown in kitchen gardens and used to flavor meats. The minty taste pairs especially well with chicken, fish and root vegetables. Use sparingly as the flavor can become overpowering.

Herb – Mix chopped catnip leaves into butter or herb mixtures. Infuse olive oil with catnip for drizzling over salads and pasta. Add leaves to stuffings, breads, and sauces.

Garnish – Catnip’s soft green leaves can make an attractive garnish for plates. Place small sprigs on top of soups, salads, meat dishes and desserts.

Medicinal Benefits of Catnip for Humans

catnip growing in a garden

Catnip has a sedative, anti-anxiety effect on humans when consumed as a tea or supplement. The active compound nepetalactone is thought to relax the body and calm the mind.

Drinking catnip tea has historically been used as a sleep aid to combat insomnia. The calming properties can promote restfulness before bedtime. Studies show the sedative effect peaks around 1-2 hours after consumption.(1)

Catnip is also used to relieve tension headaches, menstrual cramps, and digestive discomfort. It may work by relaxing tight, contracted muscles and reducing inflammation when taken as a tea or applied topically as an essential oil.(2)

Further research is still needed on catnip’s medicinal properties. But many people find benefits from using it as a gentle herb for promoting calmness, sleep, and discomfort relief.

Growing and Accessing Catnip

Catnip is an easy-to-grow herb that thrives in home gardens. It prefers full sun and flourishes in most soil types. Catnip can be grown from seeds or transplants in spring after the last frost. Plants reach 2 to 3 feet tall and will readily reseed if allowed to go to flower. Simply pinch off the flower heads before they form seeds to keep it under control.

For culinary use, harvest catnip leaves once the plant is established. New shoots and young leaves tend to be the most flavorful. Cutting sprigs from the plant will encourage more growth. Catnip can be used fresh or dried for later use.

Beyond home growing, catnip is widely available commercially. It can be purchased fresh or dried from many garden stores, farmers markets, herbalists, and online retailers. Dried catnip for culinary purposes is available year-round. Look for organic catnip from reputable sellers.

dried catnip leaves

According to HerbCo, a leading supplier of bulk herbs, catnip is one of their most popular products for culinary use and medicinal tea blending ( They highlight the many health benefits of catnip tea for humans.

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