By Grace Bryce, MH, CNHP
The latin name for Catnip is Nepeta cataria, “cataria” meaning “of the cat“. By the time kittens are 6 months old, they will express a sensitivity to Catnip, if they have inherited the sensitivity. Not all cats inherit the sensitivity. It is hard to say what percentage of cats inherits the sensitivity, sources vary, but I’ve never met a cat that didn’t like it. It is the nepetalactone found in the volatile oil of the Catnip that is the active ingredient for kitty bliss. Catnip sensitivity can be expressed in different ways by different cats. The can go from zero to crazy in a short amount of time from the smell. Eating it can make them very mellow. The kitty high will last about 10 minutes and then it takes a couple of hours before they are interested in it again. As a purveyor of fine Catnip, I have witnessed two of my cats taking turns rolling in the flower bed where the Catnip grows and their behavior is quite entertaining. They eventually destroyed that plant. When I distill fresh Catnip for my Natural Bug Repellent, some of the volatile oils are released into the air and I have high kitties on the loose. Bees and butterflies like it too.
Sowing Catnip seeds is preferable to transplanting (if you have cats.) They can destroy a transplant very easily. Seeds can also be started indoors and transplanted after the last spring frost. Propagation can also be done with cuttings or by root ball division. The plants can grow 3-4 feet tall and can easily spread by seed. The flowers are white with a splash of pink/lavender in color. Catnip is a perennial herb (Zones 3a-9b), and dead stems should be cut back in the spring, to make way for new growth. It will grow in just about any soil that is well-drained, but the sandier soils tend to increase the aroma. It also does well with hydroponics. Catnip likes full sun, but will also grow in shade and likes regular water. It is harder to keep it alive indoors, because the cats will chew it up. Catmint is another plant and sometimes the names are used interchangeably. Catmint is the same Genus, “Nepeta”, but a different species. Nepeta fassennii is a hybrid that is sterile, so you don’t have to worry about it taking over and re-seeding like Catnip. The flowers are purple-blue and the leaves are more silver. The leaf shape is similar, but different. I find it to be more drought tolerant than Catnip and it works well in rock gardens. Cats also like Catmint, but it is not as strong and not as enticing.
So, Catnip is not just for cats. It has been used medicinally and traditionally as a children’s remedy. Catnip is safe for children and pets. It is a member of the mint family, and shares the effects of dispelling gas and aiding digestion, like peppermint. Traditionally, Catnip tea was used with children to help reduce a fever quickly, without raising the temperature. As a diaphoretic, it helps promote sweating. It was often used with colds and flu. Because of the fever reducing quality and the calming effects, it promotes rest and recovery, which is helpful with colds and flu. It is also a colic remedy. The sesquiterpene lactones (and nepetalactones) found in Catnip, are chemically similar to those found in valerian root, thus the sedative and antispasmodic effects. The calming effects can assist with nervousness, anxiety, stress and insomnia. It is also a mild pain reliever and helps to reduce inflammation. Catnip is an antispasmodic, which helps with any spasms, muscle spasms and cramps. Catnip should be avoided during pregnancy.
Catnip is high in the minerals chromium, cobalt, iron, manganese, potassium, and selenium. It also contains calcium, magnesium, silicon and phosphorus among others. Some sources say it can produce euphoria when smoked, but it is harsh and leaves a pretty bad headache. The headache alone is enough to keep it from being a bad habit. It has been used historically to season meats and as an addition to salads. It was a popular tea before Chinese tea became widely available.
Research done at Iowa State University found that the nepetalactones in Catnip were 100 times more effective for repelling roaches than DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide) and in a purified form, it killed flies. It also repels mosquitos.
When I harvest Catnip from the garden. I wait for it to flower and then harvest the flowers and leaves. In my experience, it is stronger than just the leaves.
I have three methods of drying the Catnip for future use:
2. I use a dehydrator, set on a very low heat to preserve delicate constituents in the plant material. This is useful because it speeds the process.
Always wait for the plant material to be completely dry before storing it in an air-tight glass jar. Herbs are best stored in the dark, since prolonged exposure to light and air will accelerate deterioration.
Check your herbs and spices in your kitchen. If they are brown (and should be green) and have no smell, they have likely lost their taste as well, and it is time to put them in your compost pile.
Enjoy your Catnip and don’t forget to share with your kitty. You can buy Gracie’s Garden Catnip at Georgia’s Naturals, 3010 Williams Dr., Suite 105, Georgetown, TX 78628. You can also buy my Natural Bug Repellent at Georgia’s and at Monument Market, 500 S. Austin Avenue, Georgetown, TX.
Have a great day!
Nutritional Herbology, A Reference Guide to Herbs, Mark Pedersen
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis Balch