Here’s Why Your Cat Loves Your Herbal Tea So Much


Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a herbal plant that is well-known for its intoxicating effects on cats. The active ingredient in catnip, called nepetalactone, binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and induces a euphoric state. Cats exposed to catnip often exhibit behaviors like rolling around, shaking their heads, and rapid movement. While catnip does not have the same effects on humans, it has long been consumed as a herbal tea for its sedative and relaxation properties.

Catnip grows as a perennial herb plant native to Europe and Asia but now found worldwide. The leaves, shoots, and flowers of the catnip plant have all been used in herbal teas brewed by humans. Catnip grows wild in many parts of the world, but its inclusion in teas likely originated from the belief that the plant had beneficial medicinal properties. Today, catnip remains a popular additive to herbal tea blends and products. The allure and marketing potential associated with catnip’s playful effects on felines has also made catnip tea intriguing for curious consumers.

This article will explore the reasons behind catnip’s prevalence as an ingredient in herbal teas. It will cover catnip’s chemical makeup, historical medicinal uses for humans, modern scientific understanding of its benefits, and subjective experiences of drinking catnip tea.

Chemical Composition of Catnip

The primary chemical compound that gives catnip its distinctive effects is called nepetalactone. This is a volatile terpenoid compound that can be found in the leaves, stems, and seeds of the catnip plant (Nepeta cataria) [1].

Nepetalactone is part of the class of chemicals known as iridoids, which are monoterpenes produced as secondary metabolites in plants. When cats detect nepetalactone, it binds to receptors in their olfactory system and induces a response that can include sniffing, licking, chewing, head shaking, rolling, and rubbing [2]. The effects have been compared to those induced by cat pheromones.

Research suggests that the response is hereditary and dependent on the cat’s genetics. While most domestic cats and wild cats like lions and tigers respond to catnip, others like cheetahs and jaguars do not appear sensitive to nepetalactone.

Effects of Catnip on Cats

Catnip contains an organic compound called nepetalactone that triggers a euphoric response when inhaled or ingested by cats (1). The psychoactive effects of catnip don’t appear to be harmful, but rather produce a temporary excitation and playful behavior in cats.

Specifically, when catnip is sniffed or eaten, it binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and stimulates the central nervous system. This causes the cat to experience a sense of euphoria, often exhibited through actions like rolling around, pawing at the air, and excited vocalizations (2). The effects typically last between 5 and 15 minutes before wearing off.

Researchers have also found that nepetalactone acts as a mild analgesic or pain reliever for cats. So catnip provides not just a “high” but also potential comfort from pain or discomfort (1).

However, because the catnip response is mediated by genetics, not all cats are affected by it. Experts estimate about 50-70% of cats will respond to catnip (2).



Use of Catnip in Herbal Teas

Catnip has long been used in herbal teas for its natural sedative properties. The main active chemical in catnip, called nepetalactone, has a calming and relaxing effect. As a result, catnip is commonly added to herbal tea blends intended for relaxation and promoting sleep.

Catnip acts as a mild sedative, helping to calm the nerves and reduce anxiety. Some people find drinking catnip tea before bed leads to a deeper, more restful sleep. The soothing effect of catnip tea may also relieve tension, irritability, and restlessness.

In addition to individual catnip tea bags, catnip can be found in many premade bedtime and stress relief tea blends. It combines well with other relaxing herbs like chamomile, peppermint, valerian root, and passionflower. The sedative nature of catnip allows it to amplify the calming properties of these other herbs.

When buying premade tea blends containing catnip, it’s important to check the ingredient label and ensure catnip or Nepeta cataria is listed. The calming effect depends on the presence and concentration of nepetalactone. Drinking a caffeine-free catnip tea 30-60 minutes before bedtime can promote healthy sleep patterns.

Other Potential Benefits for Humans

In addition to being enjoyed by cats, catnip may offer some health benefits for humans as well. The main active compound in catnip, nepetalactone, has been studied for its medicinal effects.

Some research indicates catnip has anti-inflammatory properties. The phenolic compounds in catnip are believed to inhibit inflammatory mediators in the body ( This may make catnip tea helpful for reducing swelling and pain from conditions like arthritis.

Catnip also contains antioxidant compounds, which can neutralize free radicals that damage cells. The antioxidants in catnip may help protect against chronic diseases (

Some laboratory studies indicate catnip essential oil may have antimicrobial properties against certain bacteria and fungi. More research is still needed, but catnip shows promise as a natural antimicrobial (

Downsides and Considerations

While catnip tea is generally considered safe, there are some potential downsides and considerations to keep in mind:

Catnip can cause headaches in some people. The exact mechanism for this is unclear, but it may be due to catnip’s effect on certain neurotransmitters or hormones. Headaches seem to be more likely when taking large doses of catnip tea (1).

Catnip tea is not considered safe for pregnant women. There is some evidence that catnip may stimulate uterine contractions, so pregnant women should avoid consuming it (2).

There could potentially be negative interactions with certain medications. For example, catnip may enhance the sedative effects of certain sedatives and anti-anxiety medications. Anyone on medication should consult their doctor before trying catnip tea (1).

Overall, catnip tea is likely safe in small to moderate amounts for most people. But some individual sensitivities are possible. It’s a good idea to try a small amount at first and discontinue use if any worrisome reactions occur.



Popularity and Marketing

Catnip tea has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, in large part due to clever and targeted marketing towards cat owners. As noted in the American Bee Journal, catnip tea enjoyed popularity among earlier generations, but had fallen out of favor for many decades. The recent resurgence is largely attributed to companies tapping into the novelty factor and specifically marketing catnip tea products to cat owners.

The unique cat-attracting properties of catnip make for a quirky and amusing novelty beverage. Tea companies have leveraged this novelty appeal in their branding and advertisements to target cat owners, pitching catnip tea as a fun way for cat owners to bond with their pets.Positioning catnip tea as a drink that brings people and cats together has proven an effective strategy for boosting interest and sales among cat loving consumers looking for a new way to engage with their pets.

How to Make Catnip Tea

Making catnip tea is relatively simple. Here are some guidelines for preparation:

The recommended dosage for cats is 1 teaspoon of dried catnip per 8 ounces of hot water. Steep for 5-10 minutes before serving. Do not boil the catnip, as this can diminish the flavor and aromatic oils. For stronger tea, use up to 1 tablespoon of dried catnip per cup.

Some basic ingredients for catnip tea are:

  • Dried catnip leaves and flowers
  • Hot water (not boiling)
  • Honey or milk (optional)

To make the tea:

  1. Add 1 teaspoon dried catnip per 8 oz hot water into a teapot or heatproof bowl.
  2. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor.
  3. Strain the tea through a fine mesh sieve into cups.
  4. Add honey, milk, or other flavorings as desired.
  5. Allow to cool before serving to cats.

Properly stored dried catnip can retain its aromatic essential oils for 6 months to 1 year. Enjoy this refreshing herbal tea with your feline friends!

Taste and Experience

Catnip tea has a mild, herbal flavor with subtle minty or citrusy notes. The taste is pleasant and earthy, though not overpowering. Many compare it to other mint teas like peppermint or spearmint, but milder. Some also detect floral undertones. The flavor is not bitter, astringent or strongly flavored like some other herbal teas can be. It makes for a light, delicate cup of tea. When brewed well, the subtleties of catnip’s flavor profile can emerge.

Drinking catnip tea produces relaxing, calming effects in people. It eases stress and promotes a sense of tranquility. The compounds nepetalactone and actinidine give catnip this soothing quality. Some report it makes them feel drowsy or even helps with sleep when consumed before bedtime. However, the sedating effects are gentle, not extreme. Catnip tea creates an overall calm feeling in most people who try it.


In summary, catnip has been added to herbal teas for centuries due to its soothing and relaxing effects. The chemical nepetalactone found in catnip is what causes the response in cats, but it can also act as a mild sedative for humans when consumed as a tea. Drinking catnip tea produces a light, minty flavor and sensation of calmness. While the benefits of catnip tea are still being researched, it has the potential to help with anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and digestive issues.

The popularity of catnip tea endures today, as many people enjoy its taste and the ritual of a warm, comforting cup of this soothing herbal drink. Catnip is easy to find dried or fresh, and a simple tea can be made by steeping the leaves. With interests in natural remedies on the rise, catnip tea stands to continue being enjoyed when people want to unwind, get to sleep, or just take a little time to relax with a warm cup of this familiar herb from the mint family.

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