Does Catnip Expire? Here's 5 Facts About Freshness and Storage

by K Marie Alto November 04, 2021 8 min read

Does Catnip Expire? Here's 5 Facts About Freshness and Storage

Cat parents know and love catnip as a fun treat for their feline friends. Some cats get playful and rambunctious, while others get cuddly and sleepy. Either way, it's a fun time for both you and your fur baby.  

We've answered some questions about catnip before, but if you're interested in keeping catnip around, you probably want to know how best to store it.

For one thing, you don't want your furry little troublemaker getting into a sealed package. At the same time, you don't want your catnip to go bad or expire.

So, does catnip expire? How should you store it when you buy it, and what mistakes might you risk making if you aren't aware of them? Let's dig in.

Fact 1: Catnip Doesn't Really Go Bad

Catnip is an herb that is part of the mint family. This is the same family as culinary herbs we use every day, including thyme, mint, and sage, as well as flowers like Bee Balm. When you buy it, it's dried and crumbled into easy-to-use flakes and bits, but on occasion you may also find it as larger stalks.

If you've ever kept a jar of dried herbs in a spice rack for months or years, you know that, over time, they lose potency. They don't taste or smell as fresh because the various chemical compounds that give them their unique scents and flavors break down.

The same goes for catnip. The active ingredient – a class of chemicals, called nepetalactones – are a type of volatile oil.  In other words, they easily evaporate when exposed to air. Over time the oil will break down, and the effect it has on your cat will be reduced. That's why fresh catnip seems to evoke a stronger reaction because it's so much more potent!

Catnip Doesn't Go Bad

When stored properly, catnip can last for quite a while, though catnip's potency will decrease over time no matter how you store it. Also, while dried catnip doesn't "go bad" on its own, it will if it's exposed to moisture, after all, it is still a plant. That means it can rot. This is rarely an issue; however, the most common problem you may have with catnip is simply age.

Generally, catnip doesn't spoil or go bad outside of extreme circumstances. It will simply lose potency over time, though since cats are sensitive to it, they can still get some effect even with old catnip. It just won't be as pronounced.

Fact 2: The Natural Enemies of Catnip are Light and Oxygen

The oil in catnip that gives it its effects is vulnerable to oxygen and to UV rays. Both will break down the chemical and cause the herb to lose its potency over time. If you want your fur baby to have the freshest possible catnip, you need to store it properly.  

Catnip Natural Enemies

There are, technically, five things to avoid to keep catnip fresh. These are generally the same things that can break down or ruin any herb, spice, or organic product. They are:

  • Light/UV Rays. Light, specifically ultraviolet radiation, breaks down whatever it hits. It's the same light responsible for sunburns. Keeping your catnip protected from light (by storing it in a dark place, like inside a cabinet) helps make it last longer.
  • Oxygen/Air. The oxygen in the air breaks down many things it touches. It's what causes rust, among other things. Oxygen also breaks down chemicals in plants, including the oil in catnip. That's why you should keep it stored in a sealed, air-tight container, like a zip bag or a jar with a tight lid.
  • Warmth. One of the least dangerous "enemies" of fresh herbs is warmth. You always see recommendations to store things in a "cool, dry place;" that's because the warmer it is, the more likely you are to experience moisture issues. It's usually not a problem with catnip, though; the other items on this list will break it down before warmth has a chance to do much.
  • Humidity. Moisture also has a way of destroying things like herbs. Moisture plus warmth causes mold or rot, and moisture alone can partially rehydrate your catnip until it's no longer easy to use. Again, though, this isn't usually an issue in the time you'll be keeping catnip around.
  • Time. No matter how many precautions you take against the other four, time will always be your enemy. The simple natural process of decay will break down catnip eventually. Again, though, you'll probably have long finished off your catnip before time alone becomes a problem.

Generally, sealing your catnip in an air-tight container and storing it in a cool, dry place is all you need to keep it fresh.

Fact 3: Catnip Can Last Years in the Right Conditions

The average shelf life for catnip is around six months. That assumes, however, that the catnip is opened and used every few days, or that it isn't always stored properly.

Cat Playing With Catnip

When stored in ideal conditions and accessed rarely, catnip can last up to two years or more.

"Dried catnip doesn't expire if it's kept in a well-sealed, dry container. It'll lose its potency over time, but it won't harm your cat unless it's moldy from exposure to moisture." – Grove Collaborative

Catnip is very strong, and most cats are usually very sensitive to it. It doesn't take very much to affect them. So, one small package of catnip can last quite a long time.

Some people also recommend storing catnip in the freezer. This can work, but you have to be careful with it. Freezing catnip is a cool, dark place, but it's not necessarily dry. Freezers often build up humidity, and your catnip can accumulate moisture. When you thaw it out to use it, that moisture will turn it into a wet mess, ruining anything you don't use right then.  

High Quality Catnip

Our Momma Knows Best catnip is only the freshest, most recent harvest, and is shipped in an air-tight sealed container for maximum freshness. The container can be used to keep it dry and sealed when you're not using it, so you don't need to worry about it going bad prematurely.

Fact 4: The Freshest Catnip is Home-Grown

Catnip is a fairly easy-to-grow herb and can be grown outdoors or indoors in containers. The freshest catnip is catnip that hasn't even been plucked and dried yet, so for the absolute most potent nip for your fur baby, consider growing some yourself.

There are three main challenges to growing fresh catnip.

  • Cats can love it to death. The plant's death, not your cat's! When they rub against it, chew it, or roll around on it, they can damage the plants, which can do enough damage to kill them. That's why most cat owners who grow catnip recommend keeping several plants in rotation, planting a larger patch outdoors, or protecting the base of the plant with an arch of chicken wire.
  • It requires a lot of light. Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to grow in a window if you don't have a window that gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day.  
  • It's a perennial. That means it tends to die in the winter and sprout again in the spring. You may be able to keep it going year-round under protected conditions, though.

Home Grown Catnip

"For indoor cats, grow several pots that you can rotate between outdoors and indoors. Growing catnip requires a lot of light, so you'll need to move indoor pots back out every couple of weeks and bring in new ones." – Bonnie Plants

That said, this is a very high-maintenance way to keep catnip around. You need the space in an appropriate window, you need to keep it watered, make sure your feline friend doesn't destroy it in their eagerness, and potentially even keep multiple plants in rotation. On top of that, you need to pluck and dry the leaves and buds before the end of the season. It's all a lot of work compared to just buying some catnip from an all-natural seller like toe beans.

However, if you are one of those DIYers, watch this great 3-minute video on how to grow your own catnip.

Fact 5: Catnip's Efficacy Doesn't Depend on Tolerance

Not all cats enjoy catnip the same. Your fur baby might be really into it, or they might be less interested. Around 20-30% of cats don't have a visible reaction to catnip at all, and many more simply become sleepy. It can be hard to tell sometimes whether your fur baby is napping in the sun because it's comfortable or because they're vibing from the catnip.

Catnip Affected Cat

When you give your cat some catnip, if they're susceptible to it, they'll react strongly to it right away. After about 10 minutes the initial effects wear off and your feline friend will be immune to more catnip for around half an hour.

“It could take up to half an hour without smelling catnip for your cat to become susceptible to the substance again.” – Gilbertsville Veterinary Hospital

Interestingly, cats don't seem to build up a tolerance to catnip in the long term. It will work more or less the same on them every day, for as long as the herb is potent enough for them to smell or taste. The potency of catnip will wear off as the herb gets older, but since your cat's scent organs are so sensitive, they will still get enough of the catnip oil to experience the euphoria and pleasure they get from it every time.

How to Properly Store Catnip

As mentioned above, the biggest enemies of catnip are light and oxygen. The best way to keep your catnip nice and strong for your fur baby is to store it in the right kind of container.

Properly Store Catnip

You want something that is:

  • Solid enough that your feline friend won't simply tear it open. While a zipper-lock bag is air-tight, it's also fragile enough to be chewed through or torn open. Any cat parent who has had to clean up a scattered pile of catnip from Mittens ripping open a package knows just how much of a mess it can make and how tenacious cats can be trying to get to it.
  • Air-tight. Jars or other containers with sealable lids are best. Plastic containers with air-tight lids work as well. Again, zipper-lock bags can work but might be too fragile.
  • Easy to store. You're generally going to want to store your catnip in a cabinet or drawer, away from light and heat, but that is easily accessible for whenever you want to pull it out.

Luckily – even though it's as potent as it possibly can be – fresh catnip isn't dangerous to your feline friend. There are no known health effects of catnip; it's just a fun time for your cat and an amusing chance to play with them.

You can freeze catnip for a short time, but thawing it might introduce too much moisture, depending on your local humidity and your freezer. We generally recommend keeping your catnip in the container it comes in, in a cabinet your cat can't access. That way, you have it easily available, protected from the elements, and as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

Momma Knows Best Captivating Catnip Packaging Features

In addition to keeping your catnip fresh, pet parents should also make sure to buy catnip that is free of heavy metals and other cancer-causing contaminants commonly found in catnip coming from China. It is very easy to be misguided by unscrupulous online sellers and end up buying cheap catnip that may cause irreversible damage to your fur baby. Learn how to safely buy catnip.

Tell Us Your Stories

Do you have fun stories about your cat and their experiences with catnip? Have you tried growing it yourself and had it go very wrong – or very right? When you buy catnip, how do you find it most effective to store it? Tell us your stories in the comments below; we love to hear from fellow pet parents!

Cat with Catnip Plant

Additionally, if you have any questions or concerns regarding today's topic or similar subjects, please feel free to ask away in that comments section as well or contact us! We'd be more than happy to assist you and your furry friend's needs. 

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 19K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).


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