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Catnip (Nepta cataria)
Photo: Muffet

Marijuana for cats?

Catnip has more than one common name: it is also known as catmint. In Latin, it has only one name, the one Linnaeus gave it: Nepeta cataria L. Note the root “cat” in the epithet, from the Latin catus,which in turn comes from the Latin name for a domestic cat, Felis caruso. Linnaeus was an educated man! In French, it is known as “herbe-aux-chats” or “herbe-à-chat,” meaning catweed, among other names. It belongs to the mint family, the Lamiaceae (or Labiatae). It has attractive greyish-green leaves opposite one another on a four-sided stem, typical of the family. When you rub its leaves, the volatile oil releases a characteristic fragrance. The spikes of small white, red-spotted flowers emerge around July. Catnip is a hardy perennial native to Eurasia. After it was introduced to North America it became naturalized here. It is easy to grow, and is found in wastelands and along roadsides.

Be careful, for some pet stores try to pass off young seedlings of grasses like oats as catnip. Remember that catnip is a mint, so the leaves are broad and fragrant, especially when rubbed.

Based on an article by Édith Morin in Quatre-Temps magazine, Vol. 20, No.2.

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