For those of us who have cats and offered up that catnip "toy" we often become amazed at the cat's reaction. However, let us take a look as to the science behind the behavior.
Catnip is a perennial herb and member of the Mint family Labiatae. It is native to Europe & Asia and most recently became a wild plant in North America. Catnip is also known by the following names: Catmint, Catnep, Catrup, Cat's Heal All, Cat's-play, Cat's Wort, Catswort, Garden Nep.
The active ingredient which causes this is an essential oil called "nepetalactone", which can be found in the leaves and stem of the plant. When a cat encounters catnip, it usually sniffs it, rubs against it, licks it & eventually may eat it. Even cats who can't smell well will respond to Catnip. It is the sniffing that produces the "high". The "high" produced will usually last between five & ten minutes. Catnip is not harmful to your cat. They will not overdose on it. Most cats know when they've had enough & will refuse any further offers. Each cat reacts differently. One cat may run throughout your house, another may become lazy and others may go on the rampage looking to attack something or someone close. It is a crazy thing to watch and often a cat will act differently with each encounter.
Catnip is usually fairly easy to grow, you should be able to purchase the plant from your local garden center. It likes light sandy soil, and grows best in full sun. Most pet shops either sell catnip toys, or dried catnip. Store dried catnip put it in an air tight container. Then place the container in the refrigerator or freezer. To dry fresh catnip, hang upside down in a dry, ventilated area, away from the sun.
So, go ahead and indulge your cat in some catnip! Perhaps, hang it from a cat perch or put it on your new cat house and watch your pet companion enthusiastically go after the prize!