The herbs that come to mind when the term “kitchen garden” comes up are those like rosemary, thyme, mint - nothing too out of the ordinary. These are lovely to have on hand, fragrant, and easily incorporated into home cooked meals (or cocktails.) For those of us with a kitty companion, catnip would be a great addition!
Catnip, also called catmint or catswort, is commonly found in North America. It is named for the large effect it has on felines. As you may know, cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. When a cat takes a whiff of the herb, oil from the plant enters its nasal cavity, and stimulates the brain. Not all, but seventy to eighty percent of cats will be overwhelmed by the “scent” and have a reaction. Cats that react to catnip may roll around, rub their head, salivate, and vocalize for about thirty minutes. Cats younger than six months old are typically not affected. Catnip is not toxic to eat, addictive, or harmful to cats; however, as with anything, it is a good idea to test out new things in small amounts before using long-term. Overexposure to catnip can dull your pet’s reception to it, so use it as a treat rather than every day to boost their enjoyment!
How to Grow Catnip
As you may have been able to gather from its other common names, catnip belongs to the mint family. This herb will seed out, spread, and quickly become a weed in your garden given the opportunity just like any common mint. I recommend planting catnip in a pot to keep it separated if you’d like to plant it outdoors. Another alternative is growing indoors on a windowsill or kitchen counter. Fall or spring are both ideal times to plant and catnip seeds or transplants can be found easily at local garden stores. It prefers well-draining soil and does best in full sun to partially shaded areas. This herb doesn’t enjoy sitting in soggy soil, so soak thoroughly but allow the soil to dry out in-between waterings.
Catnip should be pinched back regularly to prevent it from reseeding and taking over the garden, even if you’ve planted it in a pot. By planting in the pot you have separated the herb from the rest of the garden and we want to keep it that way! Without pruning or “pinching back”, the herb will produce flowers, and eventually seeds. They would then spread to unintended areas via the wind, wildlife, and more than likely your cat. Pinch the herb back when you see flowers starting to form. Using herb shears or even your fingers, you can trim the plant back, making a cut right above where you see leaves or branches growing out from either side of the stem.
To take it a step further, catnip can be harvested and saved for later. When the plant is flowering on a dry sunny day (prior to it producing seeds,) cut and remove the entire plant at ground-level. Hang the plant upside down in a dark, dry, well-ventilated area. After drying the plant, the stems, leaves, and flowers can be stored in freezer bags. By keeping it in the freezer, the oil will be preserved and the catnip can be brought out for your cat’s entertainment any time!