Thursday, October 18, 2012


 (Nepeta cataria)

“If you set it, the cats will eat it;
If you sew it, the cats won’t know it”
Claude Grieves


Catnip is the herb of choice for cats, even possibly named after its ability to lure and charm felines, but humans have also enjoyed it for centuries. Native from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas, central Asia, southern Siberia and China, catnip has been introduced throughout the world. Cultivated by classical Greeks and Romans for cats and a symbol of fertility in Egypt, catnip has also been used medicinally for at least 2,000 years throughout Europe and China. A familiar garden herb in England during the early medieval period, it was used as a seasoning, a rub for meats and later as a popular tea before modern Chinese tea became available. The colonists brought catnip to America where it has escaped into the landscape like a typical member of the mint family. Today there are over 250 different species from all parts of the world each with their own unique characteristics.

A perennial in zones 3-9, catnip is a hardy plant that will grow well almost everywhere from poor, dry garden soil to rich, moist shade although the best fragrance is in full sun. A lovely grey foliage plant with strongly aromatic minty heart-shaped leaves covered with fuzz and small pale spotted flower on spikes in spring and summer that bees find attractive. Catnip is easily propagated by seed, but transplants, root division and cuttings are also good ways to add this plant to your garden. Drought tolerant and carefree once established, it also self-sows, but cutting the flowering tops which are the most desirable part of the plant will keep it in check. Since catnip is rather tall, reaching 36* in height, and rather scraggly, it makes a good background plant for borders plus a good companion plant for other herbs and vegetables. Catnip growing near homes has a reputation for repelling rats, maybe because it attracts cats, but its essential oil, nepetalactone, has actually been found effective in repelling mosquitoes and cockroaches as well as some other insects.

Both the flowers and leaves of catnip are edible, each with subtly different minty flavors. Both may be used in salads, soups and stews. The fresh leaves can be rubbed on raw meat as a tenderizer or mixed with olive oil for a marinade with other herbs. Candied, the leaves serve as a great after dinner mint. The fresh or dried leaves can be used to make tea, but infuse don’t boil catnip or its oils will be lost. Historically the tea was used both for pleasure and as a tonic for colds and cough plus to induce sleep. Catnip tea is also effective in removing dandruff and imparts a healthy gloss to hair.

Plant catnip near vegetables
to deter flea beetles, Japanese beetles and aphids
and where pollination is needed
since bees and butterflies are attracted to it


". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."
Genesis 9:3

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