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Actinindia Polygama, as it’s known scientifically, is a deciduous climbing plant that grows best in mountainous areas of China and Japan at elevations between 900 and 1500m. The plant bears small yellow and white flowers in season and then small, kiwi-like fruits with orange flesh. The fruit can be eaten and the leaves used to make tea.
Most notably, however, Matatabi is also the most popular cat treat in Asia. It’s frequently cited in Japanese manga comic books, but its use as a cat pleaser goes back much further than that.
Aside from tradition, there is scientific research to back up the use of Matatabi as a cat stimulant. Unlike traditional catnip, which contains only one ingredient that acts as a cat attractant – Nepetalactone – Matatabi contains two. The first is Actinidine, a pyridine derivative which invokes a similar response to nepetalactone. The second is dihydroactinidiolide, which has a light, sweet smell and is also said to act as a cat stimulant.
The effects usually last 5-30 minutes and cats have been observed in returning to Matatabi within 20 minutes. The product appears to invoke a more intense euphoric response in cats than regular catnip – fun behaviors such as rolling, licking, drooling, increased playfulness and a general increase in cat activity have been noted.
Dr. Mark Mitchell of the University of Illinois has conducted an in-depth of the use of Matatabi/Silvervine as a cat stimulant. The key to the study was that the cats involved played two and half times longer with the toys associated with Matatabi, than those sprinkled with regular catnip.
He also found that 3 out of every 4 cats preferred the toys covered in Matatabi overall, considering a variety of aspects such as initial excitement, behaviors exhibited and time spent with the product.
Cats tend to chew Matatabi to strengthen the effects (which is why some gardeners have found precious blossoms destroyed by their kitty neighbors!) and it has been widely reported that this can help to clean cats’ teeth and reduce the amount of plaque.
There are no known hazards of Matatabi – indeed, the plant has long been used in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine, and is becoming more well-known for its health benefits, which include high levels of vitamins and minerals. So it’s win-win for our feline friends all round!