Nepeta cataria | Catnip
Catnip, or Kattesminte (Catmint), also called catwort, cat’s heal-all, and cat’s-play, is an extremely well-known and popular aromatic perennial herb. The common name ‘catnip’ is usually limited to this Nepeta cataria species while the term ‘catmint’ refers to practically all other species. These catnip seeds were wild collected by us during our travels to the Cascade Mountains.
Catnip is often found in dry locations, in well-drained, chalky or gravelly soils, often in disturbed sites. It’s extremely drought resistant and requires far less moisture than its mint relatives. Tolerates lean soil, but more fertile soils encourage bushiness. Prefers full sun, but will grow just fine in part shade. Winter wetness can be fatal.
Like many flowering plants, Catnip has hermaphrodite flowers (both male and female organs) that are small, white and gather in spikes. They bloom from late spring through autumn and are particularly appreciated by bees and butterflies. The flowers don’t have a particular fragrance, however, the foliage, being in the mint family, has a pungent aroma that’s reminiscent of thyme and oregano.
Catnip spreads via self-seeding and by its generous rhizome growth, which can eventually produce clonal colonies. Cut out last years spent stems in early spring, which will create room for new ones. Cutting the plants completely down after the first blooms will allow enough time for the plant to regrow and bloom again.
If starting seeds indoors, Catnip seeds will require a 2 to 4 week period of cold-moist stratification before the seeds will germinate. Or if you plan on starting them outdoors you can sow the seeds in the fall and let nature take care of the rest.
Cold stratification is a term for a procedure that can improve certain seed germination rates by 300-400%. Cold stratification is designed to mimic the winter season’s cold and moist weather that unlocks a seeds protective germination mechanisms and triggers the seed to sprout out of its dormant state. (Most perennial plant seeds (such as native wildflowers) require this combo of cold and damp to germinate.) In nature, this occurs naturally, but by doing the process yourself in a controlled environment, you keep the young seeds safe from any animals that might eat them and they’ll also be less likely to succumb to rot or mildew, leaving more seeds to grow.
There are many methods to cold-stratify seeds, but the two key factors are always moisture and cold. The best and easiest way is to put a small amount of moist/wet sand/soil in a zip baggie and store in the refrigerator for 2 months time (or more). Once stratified, surface sow the seeds (and sand) and gently press into the dirt. Germination will occur with heat humidity and light indoors, or if outdoor, once spring temps and sunlight are adequate. Be sure to plant stratified seeds within a day or so after removing them from the refrigerator because as soon as they warm up they will be ready to grow and may start to sprout.
The effects of Catnip on cats has been well documented for millennia. Each cat seems to have a unique reaction to catnip: with some going crazy for it, and others indifferent toward it. Approximately one-third of cats are not affected by it, which is hereditary. Cats eat it and smell it, and will even roll in it. The active ingredient in the leaves, nepetalactone, is a terpene that mimics the pheromones in the urine of male cats, which acts as an aphrodisiac, has a euphoric effect, and can be rejuvenating even for lazy or elderly animals. A cats mood can improve simply by sniffing this plant. There happen to be other plants that have catnip-like effects on cats too, including valerian roots and leaves (Valeriana officinalis), which we also carry; silver vine (Actinidia polygama), which is also called Matatabi, and is the most popular feline attractant in Asia, and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) wood. Many cats that do not respond to catnip are likely to respond to one or more of these alternatives.
Catnip is not only useful for cats, but for humans too because it has so many beneficial, herbal properties:
Attracts cats, beneficial pollinators and birds. Repels rodents and insects.
Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
Mature height: 3-4 ft
Mature width: 18 inches
Hardiness zones: 3-9