What is Nepeta?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

The flowering plants that most people know as catnip are also referred to as the genus nepeta cataria. Nepeta perennials are members of the mint family, and contain over 3,000 species. The plants feature spiked clusters of flowers, pointed, heart-shaped leaves, and hardy stems.

Nepeta cataria is also known as catnip.
Nepeta cataria is also known as catnip.

Gardeners who appreciate lavender, but who may not be able to grow it due to harsh conditions may substitute hardy nepeta for the herb. Like lavender, catnip features spiky purple or blue-violet flowers when it blooms in the summer. Some varieties also produce pink or white flowers. Many people also plant the flower as undergrowth for rose bushes or path outlines. The plant's green-grey foliage produces the aromatic scent the herb is known for.

Depending on specific species, nepeta plants can reach various heights. Some may be as small as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in height, while others can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 meters). Some favorite species that growers enjoy include the blue dragon, with its tubular-shaped blossoms, and the snowflake, which sports whorled white flowers. Wild cat, kit kat, and longpipes are other popular varieties.

Catnip flowers are considered very easy to care for. The herbaceous plants require very little attention, full sun to partial shade, and little else. Most gardeners who live in areas that receive regular rainfall find that they do not need to water the plants at all. Since nepetas thrive in dry conditions as well, even areas with little rainfall may be suitable for the plants.

Native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, the nepeta is commonly sold around the globe as a garden addition. The plant is also known as catmine, cat's heal all, or catnip. Catnip is also a favorite plant for many people who have cats as companion animals. Many cats may become very playful or relaxed when exposed to the herb, as it is thought to interact with cat pheromone receptors. For this reason, many cat owners keep catnip around their cats' beds and playthings.

Nepetas are considered medicinal plants. Eating the herbs can produce a mild sedative effect. Some people believe that nepeta is an aphrodisiac, though such claims are not scientifically supported. Catnip has also been used as an insect repellent against flies, mosquitoes, and cockroaches.

People have also used nepeta to produce a psychoactive effect, as well as a food source. Some report having used it to combat fevers, digestive problems, and insomnia. Folk tales surrounding the plants claim that they give courage to those who eat them.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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