Catnip, specifically Nepeta Cataria, (There are over 250 varieties) is an aromatic perennial herb in the mint family. It is generally used by humans as a carminative (helps to expel gas) and as a gastric stimulant. It is “calming, relaxing, pain relieving, and gentle.” (Herbs for Children’s Health/HCH)
“Catnip is best known for its curious effect of cats. Most cats respond to its scent and taste with kitten-like behavior, drooling, sleepiness, purring, anxiety, and apparent excitement.” (West Coast Seeds.) The active ingredient that makes cats go crazy is called Nepetalactone. Interestingly about 1/3 of cats don’t respond at all to catnip; apparently it is genetic.
What it looks like
Catnip grows about 3 feet height and has a somewhat minty appearance (and ability to spread!)It has “Heart-shaped gray-green leaves and whorls of white flowers with purple spots.” (Prescription for herbal healing/ PHH) The flowers are little and not very showy.
How to start it
Want to grow this cat-attractant yourself? Catnip can either be planted from seed or obtained from a nursery or friend and planted directly in the ground. From seed, plant your Catnip indoors in February or March then transplant or plant seeds directly in April or May. Seeds should be sowed about 1/8 of an inch deep. At 70-80 Degrees F (Some sites said 60-70 F), the seeds should sprout in 10-20 days. A heat mat can help seeds germinate indoors.
How to Grow it
From what I have read, Catnip does not seem very picky. It is hardy to zone 4 and does well in any soil or pot with good drainage. It seems that your biggest problem will be keeping cats off it if you either have pet cats or feral cats around your house. Some people suggest getting 2 foot dowels and poking them in your plant 2-3 inches apart so cats cannot roll around and squish it. Others suggest making an 18″ arch of chicken wire over your little plant and letting the stems grow through the chicken wire to keep cats off it. I would also consider NOT planting it near somewhere you do not want cats, like a chicken house. On the other hand, some sites suggested planting it places where you do not want mice, like the edges of your garden. Think carefully before you plant it! Wherever you decide to, plant your Catnip 18-24 inches apart; plants spread by seed and by runners that spread underground, so they need some space in your garden. Through the season, pinch the stems and flowers off to keep the plant full and bushy. You can bring pots of catnip inside for your indoor cat, but it needs LOTS of light, so most people with indoor cats have multiple potted catnip plants that they cycle through so the cats can enjoy their catnip and the plants can enjoy the full benefit of being outdoors.
Catnip attracts useful bugs such as parasitic wasps, pollinators, and lacewings, which control aphids among other types of pests. West Coast Seeds says that, “Catnip repels aphids, asparagus beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and squash bugs.” I am somewhat new to companion planting, but I think I will be planting my catnip in pots to tuck into my squash bed next year. Our squash bugs were so bad this year that we only got a couple butternut squash, and I would really like to contain the problem as naturally as possible in the future.
How to harvest it
Both the leaves and flowers from Catnip can be used. Most advice I read suggested harvesting the tops of the plant in the fall either right before or directly after they flower. However, Bonnie Plants says that you can cut the stems to harvest the leaves whenever you need them during the growing season. To store them, dry the leaves on the stems (Check out my article on drying herbs here), and strip the leaves off the stems. Discard the stems and save the crumbled leaves in a jar or plastic sealable bag.
What are the benefits of Catnip for people?
Like I said at the beginning of the article, Catnip is generally used for soothing digestive/gas issues and to calm and relax. It soothes digestive problems by increasing gastric secretions, which helps the body move infection & food out of the digestive tract.
Catnip also relaxes the body and induces sleep without causing negative side effects the next day. Is used to soothe children and help them sleep.
Interestingly, Herbs for Children’s Health calls this one of the best herbs to reduce childhood fevers. It is used to relieve pain and lower fever associated with teething by providing it as a tea through the day. (HCH) Some parents also soak a washcloth in catnip tea and freeze it to create a soothing chew toy for their teething baby to gnaw on. I know my 5 month old would love this right now!
Catnip is also traditionally used to prevent hives in children in Europe (PHH) It reduces the eruption of hives when suffering from measles or chicken pox. Definitely something to keep in the back of your mind before a chickenpox outbreak!
Other studies have shown that catnip is antimicrobial as well. (PHH)
How do you use Catnip to enjoy the benefits it has to offer?
Catnip is used as a tea/infusion or tincture. You can check out how to make an infusion and how to make a tincture for more information. For Catnip, use 1 tsp. of herb to 1 cup of boiling water. According to the Herb Book, don’t let the herb boil in the water, only steep. Take 1-2 cups per day for adults to sooth stomachs or to relax. Many people say that catnip doesn’t taste very good, which is probably why it is mixed with fennel to make a tea or gripe water so often. Fennel improves the taste and offers the same digestive soothing & calming properties that Catnip does. You can also make up a tincture and take 1/2 to 1 tsp at a time. Herbs for Children’s Healing says that a few drops of catnip tincture before meals can help with digestion and a few drops of tincture before bed will help to sooth a cranky child. Gripe water with catnip in it has been incredibly helpful for my family, especially when my 2 year old was very colicky as an infant. Check out this article to learn more about using herbs with babies & children.
Please feel free to share any experiences you have had with Catnip or any growing advice in the comments & click the photo below to pin to Pinterest!