As a cat owner, you know how much your furry friend loves catnip. It gives it a state of euphoria, without being addictive or toxic. Its properties intrigued a team of researchers from Northwestern University and Lund University. Thus, they analyzed this plant in detail, and discovered a new benefit of catnip: insect repellent.
What Exactly Is Catnip and Why Are Cats Crazy about It?
First of all, let us tell you a few things about catnip. According to WebMD, its scientific name is Nepeta cataria. In Latin, “cataria” means “of a cat”, thus it is probable that biologists observed its effects on felines at the time of giving its name.
It has a minty or flowery aroma and it comes originally from Europe and Asia. However, catnip now grows all over the world and drives cats of all sizes crazy. Yes, a big Alpha male lion or a proud puma will go gaga about catnip, just like your four legged domesticated friend.
But why are cats so attracted to catnip? The answer is in the volatile oils contained in the leaves and stems of this plant. The “high” after chewing catnip lasts for about 10 minutes, with no side effects.
And it is exactly one of these volatile oils – Nepetelactone – that made researchers curious. It turns out it is not just an irresistible attraction for cats, but a powerful repellent for insects.
Catnip as Insect Repellent – the Findings
The team of researchers published their paper in the Current Biology magazine. According to the abstract of the paper, catnip as insect repellent was studied using two species for tests: the Drosophila melanogaster fly (the fruit fly) and the Aedes aegypti mosquito (the yellow fever mosquito).
The study confirmed anecdotal information, that people in ancient times used catnip as insect repellent with great efficiency. According to Marcus C. Stensmy, Associate Professor at Lund University and co-author of the paper:
“Catnip and its active ingredient, Nepetalactone, have been used for millennia to ward off insect pests, at least since the time of Pliny the Elder.”
Now, using modern research techniques, scientists found out the actual effect of catnip as insect repellent: one of its compounds activates an irritant receptor (pain receptor) in insects, making them steer away from the respective area.
Catnip – as Effective as DEET, Minus the Side Effects
The study confirms that the Nepetalactone in catnip creates a widespread averse reaction in many species of insects. Its effect is comparable to commercial products, such as DEET. However, using catnip as insect repellent does not have any negative side effects on you and your pets.
As the team of researchers explained in their paper:
“What is particularly interesting is that, unlike wasabi or garlic compounds that also activate these receptors in humans, catnip appears to selectively activate the insect receptor. This explains why humans are indifferent to it, and provides a serious advantage for its use as a repellent.”
Thus, if you grow catnip in your house, your cats will be super happy and you will not have to hear a single fly or mosquito buzzing in any of your rooms. So, if you needed one more reason to let your cats enjoy their vice, here it is: you can also use catnip as insect repellent!