Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
We’re reader-supported. When you click on our chosen products, we may receive a commission. Learn more.
Cat posing next to flowers

The essentials

  • Catnip is all-natural and easy to grow — The catnip plant is native to large parts of Europe and Asia, and you can grow it at home.
  • Catnip is non-addictive and harmless — Even if your cat goes bananas for catnip, you can rest easy knowing that the herb is safe for kitty consumption.
  • It’s beloved by big and small cats alike — Along with domestic cats, many lions, tigers, and other big cats react to catnip with head and body rubs, pounces and rolls, vocalization, and salivation.

Catnip is known worldwide as the go-to source of feline fun, but what exactly is it? Read on to learn the ins and out of catnip, how to use the herb, and even how to grow it yourself. 

illustration of catnip plant

What is catnip?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria to its scientist friends, is a member of the expansive mint family, one with over 250 varieties of the herb. Catnip comes from Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia into China, a plant used to charm and cheer cats for hundreds of years. Its aromatic leaves tickle the cat’s nose, and that’s when the magic starts. Cats under the influence of catnip often roll around or rub against the plant, while others may become quite energetic and hop around excitedly. The reaction is short-lived, though, since most cats acclimate quickly and return to normal after about 10 minutes.

Not all kitties find this plant all that charming, though. Researchers say about 50-70% of cats react to the plant, each cat a little differently. Most cats do not begin to appreciate nepetalactone, the oil in catnip that does the trick, until they are at least 3 months old.

The wonders of nepetalactone

Nepetalactone is as powerful as it is hard to pronounce. As the main active chemical responsible for catnip’s potency, it causes neurons in the brain to light up, setting off the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and behavior. When cats ingest the chemical, either through breathing it in or eating it, there’s a simultaneously anxiety-reducing and stimulating effect on cats, making it a great way to entertain and calm your furry friends.

How to use catnip with your cat

Catnip has far more functionality than simply dumping it in a pile for your cat to roll around in. With a little planning and creativity, there are tons of applications that will bring plenty of joy and entertainment to both you and your cat.

Take the edge off an anxious kitty

While their day may be dominated by napping in sunbeams and eating, many cats still struggle with stress and anxiety. Catnip can be a good idea for the general well-being of all cats that respond to it. Rubbing dried catnip on their bedding, scratching posts and pads, or on the ground is an easy way to provide some stress relief to your cat, as long as you don’t mind bits of the dried plant left over after playtime.

👉 If you notice your cat becoming more agitated or irritable (or any other behavioral changes) after using catnip, consult your vet.

Make catnip tea

A slightly more involved option with amazing effects is to brew up some catnip tea for your cat to drink. You make it just as you would a regular cup of loose tea.

  • Boil water — Start by bringing a cup or two of water to a boil.
  • Measure 3 teaspoons of catnip — Pour the hot water into a cup with the 3 tsps or so of catnip.
  • Steep the mixture — Once the mixture steeps for around 3 minutes and cools to room temperature, it’s ready to be served!

Straining the leaves out is an option, but leaving them in will make the drink even more potent. Both options are completely safe for your cat.

Humans can even drink it, too! The tea has a herbal, grassy taste that pairs well with natural sweeteners like honey. Note that catnip is a diuretic, which means that you’ll likely need to use the bathroom soon after. Drink it in small doses to avoid possible side effects like headache and upset stomach.

Cat smelling tea

Plan for purrs and playtime

Many cat toys can be infused with catnip to make them even more entertaining and alluring to your furry friend. Toys that engage your cat’s hunting instinct often come with little vials or packets of catnip you can slip behind a zipper or into a pouch to make your cat go after it even more ferociously. For more basic toys like teasers or yarn balls, rub some catnip all over to make them immediately more entertaining and engaging.

Pay attention to how your cat reacts to catnip, though. If they tend to get all riled up when on the ‘nip, you might not want to engage in overly-stimulating and aggressive play like laser pointer chasing.

Ginger cat in garden

Use catnip as a handy training aid

Want to encourage your cat to scratch the brand new scratching post instead of the door frame or your favorite chair? A generous application of catnip is all it takes to direct those clawing instincts to something more decor-friendly. Catnip can make for a nice distraction, too, if your cat seems fixated on playing with your blinds or engaging in other behavior you want to curtail. However, don’t do this often since you might end up reinforcing the behavior with the reward of catnip. Catnip toys can also aid in the socialization of new cats into a household. Placing catnip on either side of a door or a similar barrier between two unfamiliar cats can help them associate the pleasant feeling of the catnip with the smell of the new kitty.

Try it as a pest deterrent

While catnip is irresistible to many felines, other animals are repulsed by the stuff. If you grow the herb in your backyard garden or some planters, you can repel common pests like tiny mosquitoes and even animals as large as deer. This is especially handy if you are trying to grow some tomatoes and the local fauna keep getting to your salad fixings before you do. This makes catnip an eco-friendly alternative to other chemical deterrents, and, of course, you can harvest the plant for kitty playtime as you look out across a pest-free yard.

Playful cat rolling on grass

Growing your own catnip

Catnip is great, so how do you get some? You can buy dried catnip, but a fresh supply always within arm’s reach is hard to beat. Catnip is a fast-growing and easy-to-grow plant, and you can even buy planting kits to make the process simpler if you don’t want to start with seeds.

Step 1: Pick a spot

Start by picking a sunny spot in your garden where larger plants won’t block out the sunlight. You also want to ensure that the area doesn’t retain too much water as that may end up drowning the freshly-planted catnip. Pots are also a great option and will help you prevent the plant from spreading too widely and interfering with other plants. This means that you can also grow catnip indoors as long as the spot gets enough sun. Obviously, you might want to make sure that your four-legged friends cannot get into the plant as it’s growing.

Step 2: Set your seeds or plants

When it’s time for planting, space the seedlings about two feet apart and bury them a few inches deep. If you used starter plants, match the depth of the soil that came with the plant. You don’t need to worry too much about soil quality since this plant is rather hardy. Basic garden soil will do well, as will most topsoils already in your garden or yard. When you are first getting the plants growing, a little bit of compost or fertilizer won’t go unappreciated, but once the plant is established, there is very little you need to do to keep it growing.

Step 3: Water cautiously

From there, as long as the plant gets at least six hours of sun a day, your plant is set. As for watering, catnip likes things fairly dry, and over-watering is the easiest way to kill the plant. If your area gets regular rain, that should be enough to keep the plant happy but look for wilting leaves. If the catnip isn’t looking green and perky, give it a good watering.

When you’re ready to harvest, wait for the plant to bloom in the late morning hours and then cut either the stem or the entire plant. You can then hang the herb in a cool, dark, and dry place until it is ready to grind up and give to your cats (or make a nice tea).

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe for my cat to eat catnip?

Absolutely. Catnip is entirely harmless. The only way your cat may suffer from catnip is if they eat piles of the stuff at one time, and even then, the worst they’ll get is a tummy ache.

Why do cats like catnip?

Simply put, catnip makes them feel good. It stimulates the parts of their brains that make them feel happy and excited without any negative side effects.

Why does catnip make cats go crazy?

Nepetatalcone, the main active chemical in catnip, stimulates brain chemicals linked to happiness and energy, which makes your cat act like it is on Cloud Nine.

Do dogs like catnip, too?

While they do not react nearly as dramatically as cats, dogs can also benefit from catnip. For some, it can help reduce anxiety and acts as a subtle sedative. It’s perfectly safe for them, too.

What will catnip do to humans?

Catnip, when brewed as tea, can calm and soothe humans. The taste is a bit grassy, so you might want to mix in some honey to make the brew more palatable.