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Nepeta faassenii, catmint

Summary

Sources - Paracelsus

Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), who gave himself the single name, Paracelsus, meaning equal to Celsus a first century Roman revered for the extent of his knowledge, was a Swiss.  Depending on the view of his work taken, he is described as a philosopher, aesthete and nutter. It might be argued that the word ‘bombast’ meaning ‘pompous speech or writing’ derives from his name rather than the Latin for ‘padding’.
 
He is credited with the discovery of hydrogen but, in the plant world, Paracelsus is mostly remembered for two things. He was the first person to say that, in effect, there is no such thing as an absolute poison. The human race is arrogant and had, before Paracelsus, sought to answer the question ‘Why is that plant trying to kill me?’ because the assumption was that everything on earth had a relation to mankind. 
 
Paracelsus said that the plant simply contained a chemical which was essential to its life cycle and if that chemical produced a reaction with a chemical which was essential to some creature’s life cycle then poisoning occurred.  If a creature did not respond to that chemical it would not be poisoned. This explains why birds can eat some things which, to us, are deadly poisons.
 
Paracelsus also brought into focus the idea that the look of a plant indicated how it should be used.  This was not new; Pliny talks about the look of gromwell showing it should be used to treat stones. But, Paracelsus brought the idea into a more structured consideration which led, ultimately, to William Coles, in his 1656 book ‘The Art of Simpling’ coining the term ‘the Doctrine of Signatures’.

The amusing effect of this plant on cats leads to a fundamental understanding of the nature of poisons.

Blog Entries

Read more about Nepeta faassenii, catmint, in these blog entries;
Huffington Post compiles a collection of videos of cats getting high
The effect on cats and humans of eating catmint

Family

Lamiaceae

Meaning of the Name

Nepeta
Most sources give a simple circular definition but since ‘catnip’ is said to come from ‘cat’ plus ‘nepeta’ such definitions are unhelpful. It has been suggested that the plant originally came from Nepet(e) in the Lazio region of Italy. It has also been suggested that the name derives from 'nepa', scorpion, because the plant was alleged to cure the sting.
 
faassenii
Named for J H Faassen, a Dutch nurseryman who developed the first Nepeta hybrids.

Common Names and Synonyms

catmint, catnip, cannabis for cats

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

A volatile oil, nepetalactone, is present but its exact nature is undefined. It is thought to be an abortificant.

The effect of catmint on humans is of a lot less interest than its action on cats where it seems to be a stimulant leading to its being called 'cannabis for cats'.

It is said to make humans quarrelsome if ingested.

Incidents

Nepeta faassenii, catmint

Nepeta faassenii, catmint

No human incidents but many tales of its effect on cats. 'Digger' the Alnwick Garden cat would spend most summer afternoons sleeping under a wormwood bush after thrashing around in the catmint. Her apparently lifeless form lying undisturbed by the proximity of large groups of visitors led some people to ask 'Is That Cat Dead?'

The BBC's 'Weird Nature' series included footage of the behaviour of cats around nepeta. 

Folklore and Facts

An interesting example of the idea, first put forward by Paracelsus, that there is no such thing as a universal poison and that different creatures will respond in different ways to the substances in plants.

Its ability to make humans aggressive is reported to have been used by the hangman who would consume some on a working day to put himself in the right mood to perform his duties. The idea of a happy go lucky family man turning into a killer after eating some green leaves sounds like a perversion of Popeye's use of spinach to save the damsel in distress.

IMPORTANT NOTE

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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree