5 Things You Need to Know About Catnip

by Morieka Johnson, Mother Nature Network

Hungry catHungry catEveryone has a weakness. For me, it's salted caramel ice cream. For my dog, Lulu, it's expensive shoes. For most cats, it's catnip. Here are five things every cat lover should know about this mysterious product that drives cats batty.

1. Catnip is an actual plant. A member of the mint family, Nepeta cataria L. (aka catnip) grows throughout the United States. The plant features small, lavender flowers and jagged, heart-shaped leaves that smell faintly of mint.

2. It's easy to grow. Cat lovers who possess a green thumb can grow catnip from seed after the last hard frost of the season. As a perennial, this herbaceous flowering plant will return each year with proper care. Keep in mind that catnip requires plenty of room to grow and flourish, much like most felines. Once it grows, you will have the most popular house in the neighborhood - at least among the feline population.

3. Most cats love it. Catnip leaves and flowers can trigger chemicals in a cat's brain that lead to bouts of energetic euphoria or laid-back laziness. For that reason, dried catnip and catnip-laced toys make regular appearances on pet store shelves. Mary Ellen Burgoon of Park Pet Supply in Atlanta advises cat owners to sprinkle dried catnip leaves on scratching posts as a training tool. Pinch the leaves first to release essential oils, and a little goes a long way. You also can refresh old toys by placing them in a sealed jar along with a sachet of catnip. It's a great way to jump-start a fat cat's exercise regimen.

4. Use with care. Once cats get a whiff of catnip, it's best to leave them alone until they've lost that loving feeling. Catnip also can cause excessive drooling, so you may want to retrieve those cat toys after use. No one wants to step on a soaking wet cat toy. Burgoon also suggests storing catnip and catnip-laced toys in an airtight container or a cat-proof area.

5. People like catnip, too. Catnip also can be used for tea. The presence of a chemical called nepetalactone produces sedative-like affects in humans, making catnip a popular home remedy for headaches as well as insomnia. To make catnip tea, add one teaspoon of dried catnip leaves or three to four teaspoons of fresh catnip leaves to a mug of boiling water and let it steep.

As a pet lover, I get much more enjoyment out of watching cats enjoy catnip. Weird Nature's video of cats catching a whiff of the plant is pretty entertaining. I also like to partake in a bit of digital catnip, courtesy of sites like LOLCats or Catbook. My feline-loving friends also may want to bookmark Animal Planet's Secret Society of Cat People site, although it's not so secret anymore. Enjoy!

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