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At least two thirds of domestic cats "enjoy" the effects of Nepeta, a.k.a. "catnip." But do they enjoy it enough? If humans were able to isolate the active ingredient in catnip, could we not use it to become omnipowerful CATGODS? Imagine the possibilities! What fool wouldn't want their own personal cat army? A massive fuzzy force with which to execute your every bidding? A united, unquestioning militia that requires nothing other than unfettered access to the super-powerful catnip products that give their adorable cuddly lives meaning?

Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip.* Today we are going to isolate nepetalactone in its pure form through a steam distillation. The distilled liquid will be extracted with an organic solvent (toluene), refined, then evaporated to give the final product.

Now I know what you're thinking: is it safe for cats to be around such a concentrated extract of catnip? Hell yes! Within reason. And we're all reasonable people. Pure nepetalactone has been studied on cats extensively. In fact, "catnip oil" that is available from botanical stores is essentially just nepetalactone, and it is widely used in homeopathic medicine. More details later.

  • Note: pure nepetalactone will not enable you to create a cat army.

Step 1: crash course in steam distillation

If you've taken any chemistry laboratory classes, or if you have a background in moonshine production, then you know a thing or two about distillation. Heat something up to boiling, then collect the vapors by condensing them into another container. Steam distillation is the same principal and uses the same equipment. The only difference is that you distill something in the presence of water. Steam serves to volatilize certain chemicals, such that they co-boil with the water and can be collected along with the steam when it condenses.

This is particularly useful for extracting plant matter, where the steam serves double duty, breaking open cell walls and releasing volatile oils like nepetalactone. A standard apparatus that you would use in a chemistry lab is shown in the first picture below. Of course, we'll be doing this at home without access to fancy science gadgets.

For this catnip extraction, I've constructed a much simplified apparatus shown in the second picture. The catnip and water goes in the bottom of a big pot, with a cup placed on top. The lid is really the key component here; by simply turning the lid of the pot upside down, the vapors will condense and drip down from the center, collecting in the cup below. By filling the top of the lid with ice water, the vapors are condensed very efficiently.
<p>Here is a second purification with higher concentrations of acetone. The pH of the neutralized compounds is 7.5! The color is a bit more red due to the dissolving of the acetone into the st.john's wart hypericin and other molecules.</p>
<p>Here is a soxhlet distiller which would be better than extracting the st.john's wart compound since you dissolve the acetone in it and the extract naturally has no impurities. You add 50% acetone, 50% water and boil. The solution will dissolve the hypericin compounds and you can evaporate the acetone away.</p>
<p>Here is a repellent made from ceder 20 g (black ceder), 250 ml lime-cherry energy drink with small amounts of ethanol, 200 ml of berry energy drink. The distillate will smell funny.</p>
<p>Here I separated some of the salt and I am allowing the acetone from the st.john's wart to evaporate off. It is done outside since acetone is FLAMMABLE.</p>
<p>Salt and acetone which are lighter than the heavy compounds forms a top (i think). Requires filtering and a second separation with gravity!</p>
<p>However the acetone caused some undissolved cell wall to solidify out of solution thus it was necessary to use cold acetone to extract the chloro hypericin compounds.</p>
<p>Here is the recovered sample with some bicarbonate removed. 50 ml of sample. Acetone barely dissolved the sodium carbonate with water.</p>
<p>Here is a picture when cold 8 degrees C acetone mixes with the st.john's wart mixture.</p>
<p>Here is a second attempt to purify after distillation and acid neutralization of the sodium carbonate. The compound is soluble in acetone and sodium carbonate is not soluble in acetone especially at 4-8 degrees C! I am attempting to purify the chloro hypericin molecules at 225 mg.</p><p>Both the acetone (99.99%) and the concentrated st.john's wart sol are being kept at 8 degrees C. The acetone will be evaporated away over a long period of time.</p>
<p>A word of caution with boiling chips containing calcium carbonate and <strong>silicon fibers</strong>. When exposed to weak or strong acids the calcium carbonate starts to dissolve but there may be small amounts of silicon fibers in the solution. It is highly unlikely but using them carries is risky since over exposure is linked to<strong> lung damage</strong> it less likely in solution. They boil at 2950 degrees C so the issue of inhalation is not an issue but you may get it in solution.</p>
<p>Actually it smells more like lime than lemon. The caffeine boils at 175 degrees C but the vapour is only 100 degrees C. Does the caffeine pass through to the collector? I would assume to extract caffeine through distillation you need at least 175 degrees C of the actual vapour.</p>
<p>Here I am going to show what I can extract with 150 ml of cherry lemon 10% malt alc mixture with a lemon flavored energy drink filled up to 500 ml and boiling chips added. Lemon intense decayed odor can repel insects too.</p>
<p>Here is a picture of a cherry-lemon guana energy drink alcohol 10% being distilled for the cherry odor.</p>
<p>Here is at ph 7 what happens when ph of HCl initially 1 changes with 15 g of sodium carbonate. A salt (Sodium chloride) and different chloro hypericin are formed.</p>
<p>Since I used 100 ml of a extracted 360 mg of Hypericin and similar compounds for 400 ml the concentration of Hypericin is roughly 90 mg total. 5 ml of concentrated 25% Hydrochloric acid is added.</p><p>The color changed from light orange to light pink indicating a reaction with the following compounds with HCl (Anthraquinones).</p><p>References:</p><p><cite>Brachmann, AO; Joyce, SA; Jenke-Kodama, H; Schw&auml;r, G; Clarke, DJ; Bode, HB (2007). &quot;A type II polyketide synthase is responsible for anthraquinone biosynthesis in Photorhabdus luminescens&quot;. <em>Chembiochem : a European journal of chemical biology</em> <strong>8</strong> (14): 1721&ndash;8. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_object_identifier">doi</a>:<a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2Fcbic.200700300">10.1002/cbic.200700300</a>. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PubMed_Identifier">PMID</a> <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17722122">17722122</a>.</cite></p>
<p>Here is how to prepare a 2.5% HCl from 25% HCl. C1V1 = C2V2.</p><p>25%V2 = 2.5%*100 ml</p><p>25V2 = 250.</p><p>10 ml of 25% HCl into 100 ml H20. Required to react with Hypericin. The boiling point of Hypericin is 1040 degrees C. So you will have to filter the leaves and other stuff and extract the HCl vapours plus odors. The remaining material in the solution will have to be neutalized with baking soda.</p>
<p>Here I am posting 15 g of coffee boiling in 20 ml of 10% cream with 25% energy alcoholic drink with other plants. The goal is to create a perfume that produces coffee and berry aroma. </p><p>Eventually I will post how to react chlorine water with lye to create chlorine organic compounds like Hypericin dichloride or Hypericin hexachloride. </p><p>Here a link on how to make chlorine gas which I may pump into the distiller with ice.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Tm6neog6XVQ" width="500"></iframe></p>
<p>Beware that if you are going to repeat a project that adds bleach to organics it is best to avoid using crystal sodium dichloroisocyanurate salts in pure form even as low as 10 g could when heated at high temperatures be extremely DANGEROUS. It would be be best to AVOID using this chemical that I mentioned in the fear of making chloramines by mistake. Nitrogen trichloride (a exposlive shock sensitive liquid) could form. If you go ahead use sodium hypochlorite max 5%.</p>
<p>I am thinking of drip rate the solution at a lower pressure with a water vacume. Here the adapter with the hose ready for use. P1/V1 = P2/V2</p><p>when the pressure goes down the volume should increase (boyes law) and increase the drip rate of the solution. it may reduce the boiling point but I must try it to see if this is possible.</p>
<p>I am think of distilling organic compounds with bleach added in small concentrations. Why you may ask? I am trying to create offensive smells for plants to repel animals. Chlorine being generated by carbonic acid and heat will react with the active &quot;Organic&quot; materials. I may have to get a three headed flask to pump in low concentrations of chlorine gas. Yes I know the risks of using chlorine as a gas and at low concentrations and CONTROLLED it is fine.</p>
<p>I have rinced the 1 L round bottom boiling flask and added aged berries to fermented 3 month old grape juice. This when distilled gives a sweet initial then a strong rancid wine-vingear smell.</p>
<p>When adding lemon vodka 4% alcohol it helps the solution boil and distill faster (I think). Also I collected already 350 ml of fruity vomit smell compound.</p>
<p>Oh the pepper was fermenting for atleast 1-2 months.</p>
<p>I found a way to make the smell of fruity vomit through distillation of fermented black pepper with lactobacillus bacteria, st.johns wart flowers, blackberries, lemon flavoured vodka 4-5%. I am going to use it to repel animals.</p>
<p>Here again. </p><p>I am amazed on what a powerful smell the st johns wart distillate had when it was extracted. A pungy sweet clover-hay odor. </p>
<p>Here is another image of distillation at 2.30 am when I cannot sleep. Running the equipment is very time consuming have to check it every 10-15 minutes. </p>
<p>Here I am giving you more images.</p>
<p>Off topic a bit but since my first distiller that I am using was designed to create catnip extract at 1-2% by normal distilling. I am attempting to make st.john's wart that grows on my property into a very musky smell. I have learned that the mixture of water astope that forms with this compound evaporates very quickly.</p><p>In fact I lost a bit of the solution by evaporating. The st.johns wart solution distillate works best between 80 to 85 degrees C.</p><p>Here are a few images of the st. johns wart's extractor method.</p>
<p>I may have to use a fractional distiiler after I am done the first batch.</p>
<p>Right now I am attempting to distill Nepetalactone. Here is a picture.</p>
<p>I did in the summer 100 g of catnip dissolved in ethanol by boiling with chips (boiling chips) and used it to repel insects and mosquitoes. Smelled very strong too. </p>
Can you just tell me how you used it to repel mosquitos?do you have a way to keep your room mosquitos free?<br>Thanks
one of the best instructable I have ever read!!! hats off sir!!
<p>PLEASE don't feed your cats toluene and always read the Materials Safety Data Sheet before working with any chemicals. Also, since this is herbal, it would be a naturopathic remedy, not homeopathic. Naturopaths have a university degree and are regulated by a governing body, homeopaths drink a lot of water.</p><p>http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927301</p>
Wouldn't it be easier to use acetone or ethanol
<p>Thanks for the detailed explanation and instructions. Great job.</p><p>I see there are mostly irrelevant argumentative comments. That whole first segment on homeopathy should be moved to another site's forum on the subject. It has no relevance here.</p>
Are you suggesting we put a couple hand-fulls of frozen water on top of a GLASS lid that is really, really hot? I'm thinking I should use an expendable glass lid...
Most glass cooking ware is made from Pyrex, a thermal shock resistant glass. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrex
<p>Not as much as you may think. I had a thick Pyrex bowl break into pieces when I was using it as a double boiler. The problem is where it contacts the very hot metal rim of the pot. The area of contact is small and the metal gets much hotter than the boiling water below. So there is a high thermal gradient between the rim and the glass. The glass expands rapidly locally and cracks.</p>
ya but pyrex dishes have explode on me i still have some glass in my arm lol but seriously be careful even if it is thermal shock resistant it can still explode (U WOULD SAY OUCH!!) <br>
not if you use them properly. ;-)
Wiki aside, have you ever quenched hot Pyrex? Like raja681 I too have had Pyrex beakers explode.
oh.
<p>this is a safe way to do it the glass should be cold as the water starts to boil, and kept cold. i agree that filling a hot lid with cold water is asking for trouble but if it starts cold and stays that way ( keep filling it with ice) it will be fine</p>
<p>Maybe someone has asked this already but how good/pure of extraction would you expect by just shredding nip, soaking it in toluene, and then washing out the solids and water solubles? </p>
talbotron22 wrote: &quot;it is widely used in homeopathic medicine.&quot;<br> <br> &quot;Homeopathic&quot; is an unregulated term in the U.S.<br> <br> At best it means the &quot;active&quot; substance in solution/pill/whatever has simply been diluted down to pure water, sugar, or, well, sugar-water. At worst it's just a marketing term to hook &quot;natural medicine&quot; adherents into purchasing the product (c.f. Zicam).&nbsp;<br> <br> <a href="http://www.skepdic.com/homeo.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.skepdic.com/homeo.html</a><br> <br> In the UK, where homeopathy has seen widespread support over the years, the British Medical Association condemned it as &quot;witchcraft;&quot; the The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/45/45.pdf" rel="nofollow">recently released a report </a>concluding that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo and furthermore that, &quot;The&nbsp;Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS;&quot; and even more recently, the BMA is <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7857349/Doctors-call-for-homeopathy-ban.html" rel="nofollow">calling for an outright ban</a> on the sale of homeopathic &quot;treatments.&quot;<br> <br> Just an FYI.<br> &nbsp;
I'm with ya, Skidoo. People who believe in homeopathic remedies cannot be convinced otherwise by logic and science. It's sad and stupid and a waste of time and energy and a gigantic loss of money but it is what it is and I have seen several otherwise intelligent people wander down that road never to return.
Critical thinkers, scientific skeptics, others who support the scientific method and methodological naturalism---call us what you will---we just have to keep educating, educating, and educating. Every once in a while, someone &quot;wakes up.&quot; :-)
Homeopathic remedies, although unregulated, are no less helpful to those whom employ them. The &quot;active ingredients&quot; are in fact the natural form of many of the FDA (or whatever authority you Brits use) approved medications without resorting to all the chemistry that goes along with Pharmaceuticals. The &quot;active ingredients&quot; are not diluted, in fact there is as little processing as possible in the preparation of true Homeopathic remedies. The Pharmaceutical companies have such a sway on the &quot;industry&quot; that anything that challenges that is considered bunk or having nothing more than an anectodotal (sp) in order to discredit them. One case in point is Omega 3 fatty acids which we know are good for us, and are found in fish oil. Now there is a Pharmaceutical company marketing this exact product and advertising that only their product provides the proper and regulated dose of the oil. As I am sure you realize, this is utter bunk, there are many &quot;dietary supplements&quot; which are essentially fish oil pills and they provide the same Omega 3 fatty acids, but here in America if the Pharmaceutical companies want to produce something they have to do so in a lab with sterile equipment and all that jazz. The fact that they have realized that so many people are using fish oil to improve their lives has driven them to make a lab technique for doing the exact same thing as fisheries have been doing for over 100 years. To dismiss Homeopathic remedies out of hand is wrong. I personally have a preference to not taking Pharmaceuticals if there is a natural substitute. They are not &quot;sugar water&quot; although some less scrupulous companies will distribute materials that they know are not the product that they purport to be, this is a shame as it makes it so the whole industry suffers from the actions of these charlatans. There are countless examples of useful substances found in nature which are Homeopathy. Does anyone deny Aloe is an effective burn remedy? How about Aspirin for aches and pains? Tea tree oil treats scalp irregularities such as dandruff and mint oil has applications for joint pains. The practice of Homeopathic medicine is not unscientific or harmful, in fact if it weren't for these remedies, we never would have advanced to where we are today. For the record, due to injuries suffered in the Army, I do take several medications, although I truly hate doing so. I balanced the need to be a functioning individual against the potential harm the chemicals are doing to my body and made my decision. If there were Homeopathic remedies for my specific needs, I would consult with my doctor about them and having talked with him several times about my aversion to Pharmaceuticals, I know he would provide me the opportunity to explore those options.

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