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Catnip

Nepeta cataria

Perennial        H 1 – 3’       S 9 – 24’’      Sun                   

Nepeta cataria is perennial and a native to Europe and East and West Asia. The Latin genus name, Nepeta, comes from the name of a Roman town where it grew in profusion and the species name, cataria, comes from the word for cat. It has been used for at least 2,000 years. Catnip went wherever Europeans tried to settle as it was considered an important medicinal. It is now wild throughout the US. Cat lovers trying to establish a patch would do well to adhere to the old proverb:

If you set it, the cats will know it.
If you sow it, the cats won't know it

I hang young plants in a tree to strengthen them enough to survive the cats, and I now have a well-established patch, which is growing well as the plants are now reseeding. It seems that cats are attracted by the smell, which reminds them of the hormonal scent of cats of the opposite sex. Though it is the scent that lures them, some cats will eat the plant, probably to ingest chlorophyll, which cleanses their system.

Harvest and Use: Leaves and tops are harvested in late summer when in full bloom. But, if you would like a second harvest, cut the plant back hard after the first flowering. This will also encourage a neat compact shape. To dry, hang it upside down away from the sun with good air circulation. Strip the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Catnip has other uses besides kitty's delight. It can be picked young and eaten in salads. It makes a good tea for digestion, calms an upset stomach, and counters colic, gas, and diarrhea. This should not be a surprise as it is a member of the mint family. It is also used to soothe the nervous system. A hot infusion is excellent for colds and flu, and for children's infectious diseases such as measles because it causes sweating without raising the body temperature. For feverish colds, it can be blended with yarrow and parsley or elderflower, boneset, ground ivy, and angelica and taken as a tea or tincture 4 times a day. It is also one of the best herbal enemas administered for treatment of conditions associated with excess toxins in the blood.

Cultivation and Propagation: The plant is a coarse-leaved, gray-green, square-stemmed perennial belonging to the mint family. Though not a showy landscape plant, it does make a nice border plant. It is hardy to zone 3. Seeds germinate more quickly if left uncovered. Catnip grows well in most soils in full sun. It often reaches a height of 3'. White flowers, attracting honeybees, appear in July and last until late fall.

Pests: It is not prone to pests when grown outdoors, but can be bothered by whiteflies indoors. Use insecticidal soap to dislodge the flies. Wet, cold winters can cause root rot. It has been planted near vegetables to ward off flea beetles.