Latin Name: Nepeta of the family Lamiaceae
Alternate Name(s): Catmint
Description: Perennial herb that grows to about 3 or 4 feet high. Some varieties are grown as annuals. Catnip leaves are a greenish gray or green heart shape and grow opposite each other on sturdy stems. The tube shaped flowers grow in clusters towards the stem ends and can be in various colors such as blue, pink, white or lavender.
Habitat: Catnip grows extensively and originates in Africa, Asia and Europe but is also very easy to find in the United States and the rest of North American now.
Growing: Extremely easy to grow from seed. To get an early jump on Spring, you can start the seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your neck of the woods. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep moist. If you cover the pots with plastic this will aid in keeping the humidity up. It is very important to not let them dry out - now or once they've sprouted. Keep the pots in a warm location until the seeds have sprouted. Once they're up, put them in a sunny place until they are big enough to plant outside. It is best to gradually introduce them to being outside in the wind and sunshine. Above all, keep them moist. Catnip sucks up lots of water for its entire life cycle.
Full sun is a requirement, but in areas like mine where the heat can get well up into three digits, the plant pretty much needs to sit in a bowl of water during the day or it will not perform at its best. It will handle short periods of drought, but it will definitely affect the growth.
I have found that in our area my plant will stay somewhat green most of the winter if in a sheltered spot with a lot of light (and if I keep it watered). I am pretty ruthless in pruning the plant back to the ground when it warms up in Spring which will make my plant come back bushier and fuller than before. This will also help it to produce more buds.
You can also find catnip plants at local garden stores in the Spring, but you need to be sure you get the right variety Nepeta cataria as some of the plants you find might be more suited towards ornamental uses. They don't give your cats as much pleasure as the cataria variety. The seeds may also be labeled as Common Catnip which should be the cataria.
I personally keep my catnip in pots. It will reseed itself as well as come back from the previous years plant. Because it is of the mint family, it can become invasive if not monitored. I just prefer to keep it in check to start with.
Harvesting: I regularly give my cats fresh leaves from the many catnip plants I have growing around our place. Once the plant is established (about a foot or so tall), I start harvesting from it. The buds are extremely potent for the cats and they enjoy the heck out of them along with the leaves.
Harvesting is best done in the early mornings after the dew has evaporated and before it gets too warm. Depending on what I'm going to do with it, I will usually cut several stems with leaves and buds and hang them to dry. I bundle them up and tie them with string or a rubberband and then I use clothespins to hang them in a large closet to dry. It is a good idea to have somewhere secure from your furry friends to dry catnip as they can do amazing feats to get to a bunch hanging above them. Once dried I will store the bundles in labeled glass canning jars until I have need of them.
Uses: To provide our domestic felines with a legal, euphoric high. Most cats will start rolling in, eating, and drooling over catnip or catnip toys. They will play and have bouts of craziness until they flop over and sleep for an hour or two. Some major studies are being conducted to determine the effects on the big cats (lions, tigers, jaguars, etc.).
Catnip has been shown to be an insect repellant for humans. It is being used in many natural preparations and where DEET is not desirable.
A lovely mint tea can be made from catnip. It is interesting that it tends to have a soothing effect like chamomile for us instead of the over-caffeinated buzz that the cats get from it.
Notes: The photos of the kitties above are from a recent treat I gave my furbabies. I have a few different varieties of catnip/catmint and was experimenting on which they like the best. It proved for me that the Nepeta cataria is definitely the one with the most "juice"! The cats LOVE it. Actually, 8 of 9 endorse it. My old cat Sheena will have nothing to do with it. I just wish I'd taken a photo of them all sacked out on the futon after this episode. They were all passed out in a row for about an hour. Quiet time for Mommy!
Check out my article: Catnip - Crank for Cats for some more personal insight on kitties & catnip
I will be offering some of our organically grown catnip as well as our homemade cat toys in the near future.
But for now, a quick and easy cat toy that will provide hours of enjoyment for your furry babies can be made in minutes. Take an old (closely woven) sock that has lost its mate and stuff the toe with dried catnip. Tie a tight knot in the top and let them have it. Recycling, reusing, and repurposing at its best! (Plus some major kitty fun)
Disclaimer: The information presented herein is intended for educational, informational, and recreational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. It is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider before taking any supplements, herbs, or other substances.