ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: Catnip is a short-lived perennial herb that can reach 2-3 feet high in the right conditions. It has coarse-toothed opposite leaves on branched, square stems, characteristic of mint plants. The plant produces spikes of small, fragrant, pink or white, purple-dotted flowers. The leaves and stems contain a volatile oil known as nepetalactone. This oil stimulates sensory neurons in most cats. The effects of the oil can induce different types of behavior. It can include rolling, purring, drooling, head rubbing, and even aggression. The effect usually wears off in about 10 minutes.
Origin: Catnip is native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of China.
Usage: With domestic cats, catnip is used as a recreational substance for the enjoyment of both cats and their owners observing them. Just sprinkle some fresh or dried leaves on the floor or in a pet dish and let them go at it. In addition, catnip is added to herbal teas for people to enjoy its sedative and relaxant properties.
Interesting facts: When cats smell nepetalactone, special receptors are stimulated that usually sense chemicals called "pheromones" (sex hormones). The result is it gives the cat a sense of euphoria.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: Catnip prefers full sun, rich, well-drained soil, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.7 and temperatures between 55 and 85°F. However, catnip can suffer in extreme heat, so give your catnip some shade from the intense afternoon sun if you live in a hot climate. Also, the plants can do well in poor soil as long as they have good drainage. For seedlings, keep the soil lightly moist but not soggy. Once mature, it is quite drought-tolerant, so give your catnip a deep watering if you see the foliage is wilting.
In the garden: Plant catnip in the spring once all chances of frost have passed. Lightly cover seeds with soil. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart in a sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil. Remember, it will attract cats, so plant it in an area where your cats can roll in it without damaging neighboring plants.
In containers: Sow two to three catnip seeds in a well-draining, 12-inch container filled with potting soil. Cover the seeds with a 1/8-inch layer of moist soil. Keep the soil moist during germination by covering it with clear plastic. Set the pots in a warm area to germinate, between 70 and 75 °F. Remove the plastic and place the plants in full sunlight once they sprout.
Transplanting: Start catnip seeds indoors around six weeks before your last frost date. Sow the seeds about 1/8 inch deep in a tray filled with seed-starting mix. Set it in a warm, bright spot. Keep the soil moist until seeds sprout, which will take about two weeks. Plant the seedlings outside when no more frost is expected. Plant in a sunny location, into well-draining soil. Keep the planting depth the same as it was in the tray.
Leaves: Harvest catnip leaves as desired. Use them fresh or dry for later. Cut off entire stems and hang them upside-down for drying in a dark, dry, well-ventilated space. Remove the dried leaves and store them in jars or plastic bags.
Flowers: Remove flowers before they mature to use in herbal teas. Cut the flower stalks and hang them upside-down for drying in a dark, dry, well-ventilated space. Remove the dried flowers and store them in jars or plastic bags.
Seeds: When the flower spikes turn brown and start to dry out, cut the stems and thresh the seed heads in a bucket or bag to let the seeds fall out. Store the seeds in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Common name: catnip, catswort, catwort, and catmint
Latin name: Nepeta cataria
Growth habit: upright, branched herb
Life cycle: short-lived perennial
USDA Zones: 3-9
Seeds per ounce: about 3900