“And where does magic come from? I think that magic’s in the learning.” – Dar Williams
Last year a weed popped up just outside of our back door. By some kind of luck no one ever got around to pulling it. We noticed Leroy payed it special attention, and I suspected then that it might be catnip. I did some research after rolling a leaf between my fingers released a sweet, feral, minty aroma; it was indeed catnip. What luck! I informed the household that it was Leroy’s plant, and to let it flourish where it had sprung up – from underneath landscape cloth and between a crack in the rocks. This year we waited and waited for its return to life. But it never came back, and when Leroy went missing and was surely dead, I found it darkly poetic. After many stormy days I accepted his death, and in his honor I went down into the ditch where the plant is abundant, hacked a few out of the ground and planted them in an old barrel on the side of the house. I pressed the roots into the soil, all the while whispering onto the wind to him to come back to me someday; in another body or another time. Two days later that battle hardened, badass cat showed up again. You can chalk that up to coincidence, but catnip is a pretty magical plant anyways.
Magical, yes. I believe that magic is just science, and math, and nature. I don’t believe anything is any less amazing because it can be explained – in fact, I think that’s the most magical part. I believe that magic is how our brains perceive chance, and luck, and fortune, and love. Magic is the way that an ecosystem can balance itself. The way that bees make the world go round, and produce honey all throughout. Magic is instinct and intuition; an intrinsic part of us and all animals, and plants, and life. It is intent and knowledge; hope and hard work.
It is the way that certain plants passively provide certain benefits to an incredible array of recipients – all because of a seed, the sun, water, and nutrients in the soil.
Catnip (and really most members of the mint family) is straight up magical in this sense. Your cat loves it, but it can be incredibly beneficial to you as well!
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is scientifically known as Nepeta Cataria. It is one of the many members of the mint family. An incredibly hardy herb, it is a perennial in most areas (USDA zones 3-9.) It requires very little water, and can handle an incredible range of conditions, from very little sun to full sun, all day. This plant is incredibly tenacious. Like most mints, it will spread wherever the hell it wants to if you don’t cut off the flower heads before they go to seed. I highly recommend adding it to your herb garden, and not just for your cat.
Why do Cats Love Catnip?
Most cats love catnip, even some big cats, but to be very certain not all cats are affected by the plant. Nepetalactone is the tarpenoid that is responsible for the reaction most feline’s have. Sensitivity to nepetalactone seems to be an inherited trait that an estimated 50-80% of cats have, and doesn’t typically develop before six months of age. Effects last approximately ten minutes before they will go ‘nose-blind’ to it for approximately thirty minutes. The effect is thought to be stimulating when inhaled, and sedating when ingested. The scent is essentially interpreted by the cat’s brain as a feline pheromone. Ingesting the plant results in the absorption of its other nutrients and components, resulting in a separate reaction. Catnip is neither dangerous nor addictive to your cat, so don’t worry about being an enabler.
It is part of your responsibility as a pet parent to provide them with entertainment and excercise, the way I see it, this is just another trick up your sleeve.
What Can Catnip do for Me?
Catnip has long been used by humans for a variety of reasons. It can be eaten, smoked, or processed into others forms like salves, essential oils, juices, etc. Most commonly used as a dry herb in tea, it makes for a pleasant cup with a whole lot of perks. I personally am not going to smoke catnip, nor am I likely to go out of my way to make a tincture or extract. I wouldn’t mind a bottle of its essential oil, and I could easily be convinced to try to make a salve or poultice with it, but tea is where it’s at.
Catnip is well known as a stress reliever, and is often used by those with chronic anxiety. Its sedative nature is responsible for this, and is also why it is very commonly used as a nighttime tea. Like many mints, it is very effective against headaches and migraines. It is also thought to rev up the healing process by inducing sweating. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is also widely used to treat digestive upset. Mixing catnip and pine needles to make tea is a great idea for settling in to sleep if you’re sick, or feel like you’re getting there.
Catnip tea is also one of the few natural allies for women in fighting menstrual symptoms. It is known to soothe cramps and calm frazzled nerves. Give it a try!
It is not recommended that pregnant women or those with liver or kidney disorders consume catnip.
Catnip is antibacterial, and can be made into a poultice to soothe skin irritations such as bug bites, and minor scrapes and burns.
What Can Catnip do for My Garden?
You mean other than attracting all of the neighborhood cats in to scare off rodents that are prone to eating your vegetables?
Plenty! Catnip repels pesky bugs and biting insects in its general vicinity as well as, if not better than, DEET!
Its lovely scent is very pleasing when the sun filters through its serrated, heart shaped leaves. The flower spikes usually come up a pale purple, and provide an ample amount of entertainment for pollinators.
How Do I Grow Catnip?
Very simply. The challenge is not in growing catnip, it is in keeping it in check.
Like I mentioned earlier, it is a very hardy herb, and very likely to thrive wherever you are. Seeds germinate easily, but it is easiest to plant an established plant or to root cuttings.
If a friend has a plant, you can ask them for a cutting. Strip the leaves off of the bottom few inches and place in a glass of water out of direct sunlight until roots form, simple!
Plant in just about any soil, water thoroughly as your roots are taking hold, but do not drown your plant.
Catnip does not require fertilization, but you may if you wish.
Allow flower heads to grow and bloom for the use of pollinators, but snip them off before they go to seed if you do not wish more plants to pop up next year. You can snip stalks and harvest leaves throughout the season, resulting in a bushier, denser plant.
Foraging for Catnip
Catnip grows like a weed in many areas. It is no surprise it popped up in our backyard; after identifying the plant I noticed it everywhere in the lower elevation side and ditch area within the open space that we back up to. It often cozies up to another plant or bush in a symbiotic relationship.
Catnip can often vary in appearance, depending on where it is growing. For example, these pictures show the differences between plants that live relatively close to each other in the same ravine; one grows in near constant direct sunlight, the other in mostly shade and indirect light. The plant that lives in the open is shorter, denser, has darker stalks, with paler leaves that are thicker but overall much smaller. The plant that lives under a canopy of trees is statuesque; tall, pale stalked and lithe with great broad, soft, dark leaves
What remains true between the two is the heart shaped leaves with soft, rounded serrations. Tiny, soft fuzzy white hairs cover the plant. There is often purple on the stem and underside of the leaves, particularly in fresher growth and plants under harsh sun light. Pairs of leaves alternate upwards on a dense, squared stem. Flowers are small and appear on a bud; they may be white, pink, purple, and any variation in between, often with speckles.
Rolling a leaf between your fingers will reveal a minty aroma, but it will not be as potent as peppermint or as sweet as spearmint.
Drying, Storage, and Use
If you have a dehydrator, absolutely use that. If I had a freeze drier I’d be cranking out preserved herbs and food left and right, and you bet your ass I’d be jazzed about it; and you would be annoyed with how often I talked about it. But for now, I dry my herbs the old fashioned way – in a dark, dry area with decent ventilation.
You can snip individual leaves and then dry them, but you’ll make it easier for yourself if you dry entire stalks at a time, and remove and store the leaves once they are brittle and curled.
Store in an airtight container in a dark place, preferably with a moisture control packet.
Pull out individual leaves as needed and make your tea as strong as you like it! Use a tea ball or a strainer, and steep in water that has just come down from a boil. Mix with various herbs and teas for whatever suitable need! Enjoy the simple but powerful benefits, and how they connect you to the earth; and always be grateful for your bounty.
If you’re ever around, stop on by and we’ll dig you up a wild plant of your own!
Do you have any experience with catnip?
What do you think of it? What does your cat think of it? I’d love to hear from you, let me know in the comments below, or connect with us on any of the following social media platforms!
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not an adventure guide, personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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