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Catnip: Not Just for Cats

Updated on March 5, 2018
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Kim is a Master Gardener in Montana with a love of everything agriculture, incorporating permaculture and companion planting in the garden.

Spaz and his Catnip
Spaz and his Catnip | Source

Catnip is for house cats...right?

Well...most house cats, anyways. It turns out about 1/3 of felines are not affected. And those that are, are affected differently. Almost every cat I have ever cohabitated with loved the nip.

I'm a finicky gardener. Most of us are, but I confess that I am extra picky. I only go gaga over useful, or historically fascinating plants. Extra emphasis on useful. awesome. Aside from its entertainment value in regards to felines, it also makes for a useful calming tea and it has health and beauty virtues. It attracts bees and hummingbirds, and has its place in the natural wildlife habitat. Score! That's 4:4.

I am also borderline lazy...I love my garden but I don't love work. Anything that can fend for itself is a plus in my book. More brownie points...

Cats go crazy for Catnip!!!!!!

At least mine do...I get hours of free entertainment from my kitties rolling in the garden. Remember this later. It will be important.

I confess, I first started growing catnip for my cats. I'm standing in the pet aisle one day pondering my felines next bag when it dawns on me that for the price of my cats addiction...I could be growing it. I bought the bag and then ordered seeds.

Entertainment. Is good for the soul. And hey...that qualifies as useful.

Catnip is in the mint family...and not to be confused with catmint, which we will talk about later. Mints have a reputation for reseeding readily, being aggressive, and easily cared for. Catnip is no exception.

while there is no documented evidence, it is suspected that the Egyptians were the first to utilize nip. It is no secret that they loved their cats. Catnip has naturalized in America from Eurasia where it is native.

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Destroying the nip
Destroying the nip
Destroying the nip | Source

Zone Maps

If you sow it they won't know it...

There's an old saying...""If you set it, they will get it, if you sow it they won't know it!". I sent seed to a friend of mine a few years back. A Christmas present sent after harvest but before Christmas. So I was a little early and they put the box away forgetting all about it, until one day their kitty opened the box. Chewing at the bag that contained the seeds, for Catnip..real catnip.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a herbacious perennial zoned 4-9. It is a mint, and likes a drier condition than most mints. It also can withstand some brutal Montana Summer heat and dead on sun. I let the catnip do its thing and rip it out where it doesn't belong. I live in the mountains so any plant that can fair on its own does so. They don't get my precious garden space.

Before adding catnip to the habitat.....think this through. Catnip is a perennial, and is fairly drought tolerant. It attracts cats! Your cats...the neighbors cats...mountain cats...plan this one out. Even you townies. Every cat I have ever owned has been a stoner. Spaz, destroyed plants. You could tell where he had been by the height of the plants and the destruction he laid in his wake. Catnip can handle abuse.

If left to its own devices, catnip can become a very impressive specimen, and it will reseed vigorously. In my excitement of never having to buy catnip again I allowed some of my plants the freedom to reseed. Three cats could not keep up. Before I knew what happened...there were plants coming up everywhere. Hundreds...literally. I harvested freely and still had plants. Some of them were almost 3' tall.

In order to keep these guys under control...keep them cut back. If you love the flowers, and want hummers to get theirs...just cut back as soon as the flowers are done but before the seed has matured. Discard far away from the garden beds.

Growing conditions.....

Catnip is very forgiving of almost everything. It is not picky about soil. Where I live, there's rocky areas, sandy areas, sandy loam areas, black dirt, name it, I got it. Catnip is the equal opportunitor of the garden...which is why I tore it out where it didn't belong. I highly suggest letting this one go to the outskirts of the manicured garden area. Literally...let it go.

Catnip requires virtually no care. Once you decide where you want to start it, lay the seed and water. Once you see germination, water regularly until established plants have matured. Taper off watering. Unlike most mints, catnip can and prefers a drier environment. Not a cactus....but not a water garden. Catnip can withstand minor drought.

You want to start catnip from seed. Especially if there is a remote chance of cats.

In the habitat...cats love it. Most cats love it. They will roll in it, eat it, sleep in it, destroy it...good news! It is very resilient!


Catnip Flowers
Catnip Flowers | Source

Was that Catnip or cat mint?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) or Cat Mint ( Nepeta x faassenii )....

Catnip (also called catmint) is a true species...catmint is a hybrid of catnip. Both will lure in cats, bees and hummers. Catnip, however, is THE strongest and most virtuous of the Nepeta genus, which contains about 250 species, most of them perennials.

Catmint will attract most kitties, but not to the extent that catnip will. True catnip is highly aromatic. Just brushing against the plant releases its virtues. It took some time for me to figure out why my cats would be licking my clothes after I came in from the garden every afternoon.

Catnip flowers are delicate and tiny, a soft pink to white, with speckles. They are tubular in shape attracting hummingbirds and bees, not just cats.

Jean, had both plants in her exotic garden. So I asked her one day...

What's the difference?

Catmint is a hybrid, she says. That's the main difference. They are both perennials and they both prefer the same growing conditions. They both can be used in teas, they are both edible and medicinal, and they both attract cats.

Catmint leaves are much much smaller. Where catnip leaves can get as large as a closed fist, catmint leaves remain small, getting no bigger than a nickle. Catnip leaves are spear shaped with distinctly serated edges with catmint sporting softer more delicate and rounded edges.

There are some beautiful hybrid catmint species on the market. They have fascinating flowers, leaf shapes, and colors in lavenders, blues, pinks, and white.

Catnip grows quite tall and catmint in a low growing mounding position. Catnip reseeds readily while catmint is often sterile.

Catnip Tea

Catnip leaves

Boiling water

Cover and Steep 10-15.

Aside from entertainment......

Catnip attracts bees which is always a plus for the garden...and detracts rodents and ants. High quantities of the insect-repellant oil, nepetalactone is found in the leaves. Fresh leaves can be steeped in water and used to safely evict flea beetles and ants from the vegetable beds. Where it grows ants wont go. It has been used in companion planting to protect collards, broccoli, cauliflower and various other vegetables from harmful insects and planted with tomatoes to encourage robust growth.

I don't recommend companion planting with catnip. First attracts cats. Planting catnip with your veggies will bring cats into the garden which could be detrimental to your groceries. Second, the plants get large and can easily take over your beds.

Catnip has been employed in the bath to relax and soothe or added to shampoos to combat dandruff. It has been used to repel insects and rodents and in eyewashes for inflamed or swollen peepers.

Cat nip leaves can be consumed fresh or dry. Teas to relax and encourage sleep are prepared from the dried leaves. Fresh catnip leaves are reported to be a suitable pesto...although, I haven't tried that...and I found a recipe for candied catnip leaves, I haven't tried that yet either.

Historically, teas are the way to go. They are the go to for colicky young uns, and called for when a tummy is upset, it is used to combat gas, wash hemorroids, encourage sleep, soothe ulcers, and relieve headache.

The essential oils of catnip are steam distilled and are reported to be insect and mosquito repellant. I'm not sure how practical this would be as a repellent though. If you applied catnip oil to your skin or clothes you would attract cats like the Pied Piper attracted rats...if you diffused it? Would any feline in olfactory distance come running? Hmmm.....

For me...this one is mostly entertainment. I love to sit and watch the kitties play. And it grows so easily I am never without. We always have fresh dried catnip in reserve for winter months to keep us (and kitties) fully entertained.

So remember...sow it, don't grow it. And good luck!!!!

Thanks for stopping by the garden. I hope you enjoyed your visit.

Do you use catnip? Do you grow catnip? Do you have any extra insight? Please share in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.


© 2018 Kim French


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