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Catnip and Cat Mint
"Catnip" is the common name for a perennial herb of the mint family.
It is native to Europe and is an import to the United States and other countries. The catnip plant is now a widespread weed in North America.

Catnip is a plant that causes various reactions in cats.  It is the scent of catnip, not the consumption of it that has such a dramatic effect on cats.  When cats are enjoying the plant, they do often chew the leaves, but this may be merely to release more of the scent that is in the essential oils. It is the chemical nepetalactone , a volatile oil similar in structure to the sedative ingredient found in valerian root, another well known sedative herb, that triggers the response in cats' brains;  however, because human brains are physiologically different, we must be content to gain any vicarious pleasure through
watching our cat's enjoyment of the herb!

Very young cats and kittens will not be affected by catnip.  Bruising the leaves is what releases the powerful oils in the catnip which so many cats find irresistible!  Catnip is now mostly recognized for its use as a feline "aphrodisiac", although it is estimated that about 15-20% of cats do not have a response to catnip. The presence (or lack) of a response to catnip appears to be a genetic trait for cats.  Since catnip triggers responses that are sex behavior linked.  Kittens generally do not begin responding to catnip until they have started to sexually mature, at the age of six months.
Studies have shown that the Big Cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, etc.) also enjoy the effects of catnip!

Given to the right cat, catnip can cause an amazing reaction! The cat will rub it, roll over it, kick at it, and generally go nuts for several minutes. Then the cat will lose interest and walk away.  Two hours later, the cat may
come back and have exactly the same response.
You can find wild catnip plants in most weedy areas, and harvest the seed. Or you can buy seed from companies like Burpees or Parks and most garden centers have catnip seed this time of year ~ check the "herb" section.  Or even seed racks in the grocery and discount stores.
Catnip is easy to grow.  Catnip loves full sun but can tolerate partial shade, and does well in almost any garden soil.
You will need to keep the plant itself out of the reach of the cats as catnip lovers will quickly destroy it.

The best strategy is to get some growing, and then pinch and prune it regularly and give the harvested leaves to your cat.  Keep it in its own pot,
as it will spread rapidly.  Cats will tend to dig up transplanted catnip
and eat it roots and all, but are much gentler on plants started from seed.  The leaves have to be bruised to release the odor, and transplanting
seems to be enough bruising.

Nepeta cataria is the common catnip; other Nepeta species have varying amounts of the "active ingredient".  A good one is Nepeta mussini,
a miniature leaved catnip that makes a good rock garden plant.
Nepeta is of the mint family.  There are about 250 species of catnip,
plus a bunch of hybrids between species. 
Only about 10 are available in this country though.

FIRST AID:   None is required.

PREVENTION:   Catnip is safe, however avoid excessive ingestion since vomiting or diarrhea may occur.