There's a plant that cats go crazy for. It makes them drool and run around like kittens. No, it's not catnip: it's valerian root!
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has tiny, sweet smelling flowers that grow in bunches, and jagged leaves. But it's not the flower or the leaves that get cats excited: it's the root. Like catnip, smelling valerian root sends cats into a euphoric frenzy. And like catnip, no one knows exactly why.
You already know that catnip is perfectly safe. But...
Is valerian root safe for cats?
Valerian root is safe for cats - the key here is moderation. The effects of valerian on cats have not been studied extensively, so always use moderation. This is true for most things in life: too much of anything is never a good idea!
When used externally (ie don't let your cat stuff his face with it), valerian is harmless. Like catnip, it's widely used as a cat stimulant (in places like Russia, it's actually called "cat's grass.") Valerian doesn't work on every cat, and the strength of the effect varies. Sprinkle a little bit of valerian root on your cat's toys, stuff it into a kitty herb pouch, or just open a bottle and let him have a sniff.
Facts about valerian, backed by research
We've shared some interesting facts about valerian before, and some details about how valerian root affects humans. This time around, we've scoured the world of science and dug up some research about valerian's effect on cats, its odd past uses, and other research-backed conclusions about this medicinal herb.
photo by @gastonlemagnifique
Here are 7 more facts about valerian:
1. Valerian's effects are not limited to cats.
Unlike catnip, which only works on cats, valerian also works on other animals, including dogs, rats, and, strangely, earthworms.
2. Valerian is one of the most commonly used herbal medicine.
Valerian is commonly used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Nearly all herbal remedies for sleep related issues use valerian, but its usefulness doesn't end there. The herb is currently being studied as a potential alternative for combating depression, since it doesn't cause suicidal thoughts in users. It might even prove useful for treating epilepsy and PMS.
3. The herb has been used by humans for centuries for various purposes.
Throughout history, the herb has been used for a wide range of ailments, including heart palpitations, digestive problems, anxiety, and even urinary tract infections. In the Middle Ages, valerian was used as perfume - presumably made from the flowers, not the root (we don't see "Soiled Socks eu de toilet" becoming a bestseller), World War II soldiers used it to combat shell shock.
4. These days, valerian is mostly used as a sleep aid in humans.
And in mice, apparently.
5. Valerian varies depending where you are in the world.
America and northern Europe use Valeriana officinalis, China and Japan have V. angstifolia, and India uses V. wallichii.
6. Valerian may have promising health benefits for cats.
There isn't a whole lot of research into it, but a few small experiments have tested valerian as a natural remedy for various cat ailments. Cats that received injections of valerian root extract showed a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, and acted significantly calmer and less aggressive. Thanks to this effect, valerian may be a viable alternative to other drugs for calming or restraining cats. The herb may also help ease gastrointestinal pain in cats. (We shouldn't have to say this, but… don't try this at home. If you're interested in learning more, ask your vet for his professional opinion. We cannot stress this enough: DO NOT self medicate on your cat or yourself!)
7. Cats react to catnip and valerian for different reasons.
Cats go crazy for catnip because of a chemical compound called nepetalactone. In valerian root, the compound they're reacting is most likely actinidine… or it might be something simply called valeric acid. At least one study has shown that valeric acid acts like a cat pheromone, which may explain why some cats react to it and others don't. You can also blame valeric acid for the potent smell of valerian root!
So there you have it: research shows that this deliciously earthy root and herb is full of medicinal potential. It's also safe for external use for your cat. And your pet earthworm. Bonus!
- by Yuliya