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Summary Article: CATNIP
From Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics

Source: Nepeta cataria L. (Family Lamiaceae).

Common/vernacular names: Catnep, catnip, and catmint.


Gray, hairy, erect, branched perennial, 40-100 cm high; leaves ovate, crenate, base cordate; 2-8 cm long; flowering in spike, white, tinged with purple; native to southern and eastern Europe; widely naturalized elsewhere in Europe and North America, Central Asia, and the iranian plateaus; commercially harvested from naturalized populations in Virginia, North Carolina; cultivated in Washington, Europe, and Argentina. Part used is the flowering tops and the essential oil obtained from steam distillation.


Contains 0.3-1% essentialoil consisting mainly of terpenoids, nepetalic acid, β-caryophyllene, nepetalic anhydride, plus high amounts of nepetalactone (GUENTHER) and its two isomers, (E, Z- and Z,E-nepetalactone), plus 5, 9-dehydronepetalactone, dihydronepetalactone, isodihydronepetalactone, and neonepetalactone;1,2 high amounts of geranyl acetate, citronellyl acetate, citronellol, geraniol,3 geranial (citral a), andneral (citralb); also β-caryophyllene, nerol, humuline, limonene, β-pinene, myrcene, β-ocimene,4 carvacrol, pulegone, thymol, and others; plant also contains tannins (LIST AND HÖRHAMMER); iridoids, including 1, 5, 9-epideoxyloganic acid5 and 7-deoxyloganic acid.6


Best known for its ability to elicit behavioral responses in cats, including sniffing, licking, and chewing with head shaking, chin and cheek rubbing, sexual stimulation, and head-over rolling and body rubbing; known as "the catnip response."2 The response is observed in domestic and large cats, such as lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, and others following exposure to the odor of the plant; however, not all cats, domestic or large, respond; outgoing cats respond well, whereas withdrawn cats respondpoorly. Nepetalactone or catnip oil elicit the response when applied as an odor,2 but not when administered orally or by i.p. injection.7 Acute doses of catnip in mice (10% of diet) increased locomotion frequencies, rearing, and susceptibility to induced seizures and decreased sodium pentobarbital-induced sleeping time. Short-term effects were "amphetamine-like," whereas long-term administration produced tolerance with adaptative changes.8

Diethyl ether extract of plant and nepetalactones have shown in vitro antibacterial and antifungal activities.9,10 Vapors of nepetalactone have shown repellent activity in 13 families of insects.11 The essential oil and the two isomers of nepetalactone have shown insect repellent activity to subterranean termites (Reticulitermes spp)12 and to male German cockroaches (Blattella germanica); E,Z-nepetalactone showed greaterrepellent activity than DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide).13


As 10% of the diet of pregnant mice, the dried leaves decreased maternal body weight and reduced fetal, placental, and offspring weights; some organ development delayed in both sexes.14 Others have reported increased food consumption in mice administered catnip.8 A hypotonic episode (CNS depression lasting approximately 60 h) was reported in a 19-monthold male who ingested raisons soaked in a commercial catnip tea.15


Medicinal, Pharmaceutical, and Cosmetic. Essential oil used in cosmetics and perfumes.4

Food. The leaves and flowering tops have been used as a flavoring in sauces and cooked foods; dried in mixtures for soups, stews, and so on (DUKE 2).

Dietary Supplements/Health Foods. Tops in teas; pleasant-tasting, mintlike characteristic (FOSTER).

Traditional Medicine. American indian uses include colds, fever, colic, sedative, sleep aid, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, rheumatism and pains in babies, and tea; also used as a diaphoretic; majority of uses in infants (MOERMAN). Used in Europe in the treatment of colds, fever, headaches, insanity, restlessness, nervousness, flatulence; bruised leaves in ointment for hemorrhoids; also diaphoretic, antispasmodic, and mild stimulant; children's remedy (GRIEVE).

Others. Dried, loosely powdered leaves alone and as stuffing in cat toys; nepetalactones commercially derived from catnip used in the production of aphid sex pheromones (insect attractants).16 Oil formerly used as an attractant in wild cat traps (DUKE 2).


Crude herb; extracts, essential oil; formerly official in both N.F. and U.S.P.

Regulatory Status. Regulated in the United States as a dietary supplement. Formerly included in U.S.P. (1840-1870) and N.F. (IV-VII).



  • 1. Sastry, S. D. et al., Phytochemistry, 11, 453 (1972).
  • 2. Tucker, A. O. and Tucker, S. S., Econ. Bot., 42, 214 (1988).
  • 3. Baranauskiene, R. et al., J. Agric Food Chem., 51, 3840 (2003).
  • 4. Ibrahim, M. E. and Ezz El-Din, A. A., Egypt. J. Hortic., 26, 281 (1999).
  • 5. Murai, F. et al., Chem. Pharm. Bull., 32, 2809 (1984).
  • 6. Tagawa, M. and Murai, F., PlantaMed., 47, 109 (1983).
  • 7. Waller, G. R. et al., Science, 164, 1281 (1969).
  • 8. Mossoco, C. O. et al., Vet. Hum. Toxicol., 37, 530 (1995).
  • 9. Nostro, A. et al., Int. J. Antimicrob. Agents, 18, 583 (2001).
  • 10. Bourrel, C. et al., J. Essent. Oil Res., 5, 159 (1993).
  • 11. Eisner, T., Science, 146, 1318 (1964).
  • 12. Peterson, C. J. and Ems-Wilson, J., J. Econ. Entomol., 96, 1275 (2003).
  • 13. Peterson, C. J. et al., J. Econ. Entomol., 95, 377 (2002).
  • 14. Bernardi, M. M. et al., Toxicon, 36, 1261 (1998).
  • 15. Osterhoudt, K. C. et al., Vet. Hum. Toxicol., 39, 373 (1997).
  • 16. Birkett, M. A. and Pickett, J. A., Phytochemistry, 62, 651 (2003).
Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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